Attending Vancouver Whitecaps FC matches prior to 2011 was a brilliant experience. Games were held at a quaint ground nestled into the side of an urban forest that engulfed half of the stadium. Each spring, season openers would be marked by a haze of cottonwood seeds drifting through the air, so abundant that we would have make to sporadic efforts to remove them from our clothing. To the north, a picturesque view of mountains, while the main stand’s concrete skeleton dominated the western skyline.
The venue had a relaxed mood on match days. There was the same anticipation found at any large football ground around the world, but without the aggressive scrutiny or hostile atmosphere. Police were rarely in attendance and the minimal security officials present treated matches as one of their easier gigs and a chance to soak up some sunshine.
But when the club moved up to Major League Soccer in 2011 – thanks to buying their way in, rather than for any on-field achievements – it became a very different entity.