December 11th 1973 was a momentous day in Vancouver footballing history as the North American Soccer League (NASL) announced that the city had been awarded a new team from the 1974 season. We chronicled that day and the announcement on the same day half a century later as the ‘Caps kicked off their 50th anniversary year.
We’ll be chronicling that first year for the Whitecaps on both the AFTN website and the AFTN podcast. We’ll look at the highs, the lows, the comings and goings, the matches, the players, and more throughout 2024 and we kick things off with a round-up of what was a very slow first month of 1974 for the ‘Caps all things considered and with their inaugural season fast approaching.
The rights to a NASL team were acquired by Herb Capozzi’s ownership group for $75,000. It was then announced on January 10th that from January 15th, new additions would cost owners $250,000! So much like with MLS, the Whitecaps owners came in at the right time. But they still had a LOT of work to do to get an actual teams on the pitch.
Less than four months before the 1974 season was set to start, Vancouver still had no team name, manager, players, or a place to play! As for having no team name yet, the owners indicated that it might go to a public vote (spoiler, it didn’t, but more on that another time!).
GM Denny Veitch told media on January 10th that they were talking to three prospective head coach candidates – one in Vancouver, one in Eastern Canada, and one in the UK. English defenders Bobby Cram and Peter Dinsdale, who both played for Vancouver Royals in 1968, and in 1967 as well in Dinsdale’s case, were both linked with the job. Both had stayed living in Vancouver.
Fast forward a week to January 17th and Veitch then told media that the club had interviewed eight prospective head coaches – four in Vancouver, two based in the US, and two in the UK.
“You can say we have one definite preference and one definite second choice,” Veitch told media. “We hope to make the decision very shortly, but we are being very careful, bearing in mind the task facing the man we choose. He must have a good public image as well as good coaching abilities. And he must also have good contacts in the world of soccer, since it will be his job to put the team together for our inaugural season.”
The 1974 NASL U.S. college draft took place on Wednesday January 23rd. There were four rounds, conducted by telephone between the 15 teams and was the third NASL draft as the league continued to grow and expand. There were eight new teams in the league for the 1974 season, and it was another one of the four West Coast expansion sides, Los Angeles Aztecs, that had grabbed the number one selection position.
Vancouver had the 7th pick in the first round and going into the draft, Philadelphia Atoms had made an offer to Vancouver it. What they offered was not revealed and Veitch played down the draft, telling media that he didn’t expect to draft players beyond the first round except to acquire trade bait.
“I’ve seen all four top University teams in the U.S.,” Veitch said. “St. Louis University has easily the most outstanding squad, but I’m convinced we have equally talented players right here in B.C.”In the end, Vancouver drafted four players. Forwards Steve Baumann from the University of Pennsylvania and Mark Mathis from Quincy, Illinois went in the first two rounds, with forward Tekeda Alemu and defender Yaregal Gebreyesus, both Ethiopians who played with UCLA, the final two selections. All four played in the last Senior Bowl game and none of them made the Whitecaps’ roster that year.
Baumann still holds Penn Quakers career points and assists records. He went on to play three seasons in the NASL with Miami Toros, retiring to become an elementary school teacher before becoming the head coach of the Quakers, and then Chief Executive of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame. Mathis played amateur soccer into his 50’s.
But perhaps the most amazing of all was Alemu. Capped internationally with Ethiopia, he gave up a life in football to enter the political world, starting off as an Ethiopian 1st Secretary in 1983 and rising to Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1991. He has been a diplomat for over 40 years and was Ethiopia’s permanent representative to the United Nations from January 2011 until early last year. He is still a UN diplomat and served as the President of the UN Security Council in September 2017.
So four pick, but no players from them.
Vancouver did, however, get the rights to a player on January 23rd that was to play a significant part of the Whitecaps’ inaugural season, Bermudan goalkeeper Sam Nusum. Nusum played the previous two seasons with Montreal Olympique (who had folded), stayed one season in Vancouver, making 17 appearances and then played one year with the New York Cosmos.
Veitch also had to deny that the club had made a $77,000 per year job offer to larger than life English coach Malcolm Allison. Big Mal said he was heading over to help Vancouver out, but Veitch said that they “never made him an offer”, adding “There is not the remotest chance of us paying that kind of money. Though there is an outside chance of Allison coming as a sort of guest coach for a week or two.”
But as the month of January came to an end, the new Vancouver club were still missing all the things they started the month without. That was all soon to change though.