After a boisterous reception at Exhibition Stadium last May, the Vancouver Whitecaps Women weren't about to let another four years go by before returning to Chilliwack.
The Whitecaps Women-who play in the USL W-League-will host the Colorado Rapids FC June 1 at Exhibition Field.
They will hope they can match last year's game both on and off the field, during which 900 cheering fans packed the stands to watch the Whitecaps beat the Colorado Rush 3-0.
That game was the Whitecaps' first in Chilliwack in four years. And it was so successful that the Whitecaps-who play their home games at different sites around southern B.C.-made returning to Chilliwack a priority.
"Last year's game was a huge success," said the Whitecaps' Dan Lenarduzzi. "Of all the games last year, we really felt a really great vibe from the community. We felt we were really welcomed out there and the girls commented after that they really appreciated the crowd and the feeling of the community."
Chilliwack, Lenarduzzi said, "was definitely first on our list when we went to do this year's schedule."
The game will again see the Whitecaps host clinics for young players before the game and interact with fans afterward. That grassroots involvement is one of the reasons the Whitecaps play at different home sites; it's both a major highlight for players and fans, and a key recruiting tool, according to Lenarduzzi.
The players "feel good about it as well, because not only can they develop as a player and be part of a great organization like the Whitecaps, but they get the chance to help grow the female game," he told the Times.
This winter, Women's Professional Soccer, the highest-level women's soccer league in North America, announced that it would go on hiatus for a year. That has made the W-League the highest league of women's soccer, by default, and it has resulted in an exodus of WPS players to the W-League.
In recent weeks, the Whitecaps have added a pair of former WPS players to their roster, as well as a trio of players on the Canadian U-20 national squad. Lenarduzzi said more top-flight players will be added soon.
"We're really looking to access some of the top collegiate players from the States and also we will be adding and announcing some players who played last year in WPS," he said. "We'll have a very strong squad this year, albeit a different squad from last year. As we move forward, our intent is we want to be a breeding ground for the very best Canadian players."
For her part, Chilliwack FC chair Andrea Laycock said she hopes this year's game will build off of last year's impressive turnout.
"It was a wild success last year. We had a huge walk-up," she said. "It's just more exposure for us."
The local club was instrumental in bringing the game to Chilliwack and it has made sure that its tournament teams will have an off-weekend to be able to see professional-level soccer players in action.