VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps got a taste of their new home Friday, as they practiced under the roof at the new BC Place Stadium for the first time.
“First impressions, when you go up to the stadium, it’s amazing to look at,” captain Jay DeMerit told MLSsoccer.com. “When you get inside the stadium, it looks like it will be an up close, personal atmosphere, which you need for a good soccer game.
“You can see the screen, the technology – it's state of the art.”
The practice was a chance to get a feel for the much-vaunted Polytan turf, which is meant to more closely imitate real grass, and it seems the verdict has been positive from the players so far.
“My knees feel a little better today, so I’m pretty excited about that,” goalkeeper Joe Cannon said. “As far as the diving goes, I think it’s new turf, so you’re going to have to wait a couple of days to see what the real differences are and how it’s going to settle.
“It did [feel softer], so I was pretty happy about that,” the 36-year-old continued. “The ball was sticking a little bit, which is very common with brand new turf.”
Initially, interim head coach Tom Soehn had told reporters that the team wouldn’t have a chance to get a practice session in before the game, but players were relieved to get some time on the field before a competitive match.
“It gets us a feel for the turf and the stadium, where we’re going to change,” Soehn said. “Just having a pre-run of what we’re going to go through as we get ready for a game.”
The stadium is designed to capture the sound of fans, and the retractable roof means fans get the benefit of protection on soggy days but the opportunity to experience outdoor matches at the height of summer.
Fans will also be treated to the second-largest video board in any stadium in the world. Goalkeepers Cannon and Jay Nolly actually attempted to hit the board at practice today to see whether that would be a problem, but Nolly was the only one who managed to do it, smacking the ball off the screen.
The Whitecaps have a history at BC Place, having played part of the final season of the original North American Soccer League there when the previous incarnation of the stadium opened in 1983.
“Twenty eight years ago, we were opening up BC Place against the Seattle Sounders in front of 60,000-plus people,” club president Bob Lenarduzzi said by phone on Friday. “If someone had suggested to me that we would be re-opening BC Place 20 years later, I might have suggested that would be farfetched. But to actually be a part of opening a new state-of-the-art building when I was a part of it as a player in ’83, it’s very special.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon