VANCOUVER, British Columbia _ The hair will be shorter and the shorts longer, but when the Vancouver Whitecaps take the field for their first Major League Soccer game on Saturday, Bob Lenarduzzi will have a 1970s flashback.
Now the team president, Lenarduzzi was a homegrown star on the field when Vancouver last had a team at the top level of professional soccer in North America. He was there with the original Whitecaps for their NASL debut in 1974. He was there for the Soccer Bowl championship in 1979 and the victory parade that drew more than 100,000 fans. And he was there when the league folded just five seasons later.
So as the Whitecaps prepare to start a new era in MLS against Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon, the 55-year-old Lenarduzzi admits it will be hard not to think back.
"No doubt, it stirs up a lot of the old memories," he said.
They are amplified because the new Whitecaps will debut where the originals wrapped up. The old Empire Stadium from their NASL days is gone, but Empire Fields, a 20,000 seat temporary stadium, has been constructed on the same grounds.
The Whitecaps will call it home until a $500 million renovation is complete at BC Place, the downtown stadium that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. The inflated roof was torn off shortly after, and work on a retractable version should be complete for an Oct. 2 game against expansion cousin Portland.
"Having two venues your opening season is tricky," Lenarduzzi said. "But if we have to do it, what better than to go back to where it all started."
Today's Whitecaps have been made aware of their past.
"We watched videos of what it was like when they won the Cup here and what an inspiration that is," said Terry Dunfield, a 29-year-old midfielder who was born in Vancouver, but left at age 15 after being recruited to Manchester City's youth program. He returned home after 14 years in England, hoping to help the Whitecaps recapture past glory.
"The hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you watch that stuff," Dunfield said. "If we could come close to emulating that, it would be brilliant."
Off the field, the Whitecaps are making a good start, with more than 15,000 season tickets sold and every game to be televised. MLS Commissioner Don Garber paid a visit in February and praised the ownership group, which includes Jeff Mallett, the former Yahoo! president with stakes in the San Francisco Giants, and Steve Nash, a two-time NBA MVP who grew up playing soccer in nearby Victoria.
Mallett and Nash, who is flying to Vancouver between Phoenix Suns games for Saturday's opener, helped lure Paul Barber from an executive job with Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.
"I was shocked he'd come," Lenarduzzi said, referring to the Whitecaps' new CEO. "But it spoke highly of what we have here and his optimism that this can turn into something special."
On the field, success might take a bit longer.
Almost half the roster carried over from last season's USSF Division 2 team. But, like goalkeeper Jay Nolly, many left other MLS teams for the chance to play more and grow back into the league.
"It's like any sport, when players go down to Triple-A to get experience you write them off," said Nolly, who was on the Real Salt Lake expansion roster in 2005. "This team has been together and had preparation time instead of just throwing a team together and hoping they do well."
American striker Omar Selgado, the surprise first overall selection in this year's MLS Superdraft, is only 17 and too young to play for the Whitecaps this year.
Instead, new captain Jay Demerit, a 2010 World Cup starter for the United States, will lead a squad with only a handful of similarly experienced European professionals. They include a trio from the Swiss Super League: Alain Rochat, Davide Chiumiento and Eric Hassli, a French striker who last week became the Whitecaps' first designated player.
But Demerit, who left money on the table in Europe, seems just as excited about his new team's history, which includes long-standing rivalries with Portland and the third-year franchise Seattle, and what that could mean to MLS.
"The Pacific Northwest is setting a standard of how soccer should be in North America," Demerit said. "Energy and passion, that's what soccer is, that's what you see in Europe. They are brought up from 4 years old knowing this is the chant of my team. America is just starting to get that."
With almost 30 years of history, it exists in Vancouver before the Whitecaps' first game.