Monday night’s World Football Challenge match between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Manchester City was important in building the profile of both the MLS club and the league.
However, Vancouver's 2-1 loss to the EPL side had a previous casualty: Saturday’s league match with Real Salt Lake, which was postponed because a temporary grass surface that was laid on top of Empire Field's turf was waterlogged following heavy rain.
Because Manchester City requested the grass surface for the WFC tilt, the postponement raised some criticism as it gave the appearance that Vancouver valued that match more than the league game. But RSL's general manager didn't Lagerwey didn’t necessarily agree.
“I’m not in Vancouver’s shoes, and so it’s impossible for me to speculate.” Lagerwey said. “It’s a league decision — ultimately it’s up to them on how they decide. They made the call [to postpone the match]. It wasn’t Vancouver postponing the game.”
Lagerwey also explained that under the conditions, the decision to postpone the match was unanimous.
“We agreed to the decision to postpone the game,” Lagerwey said. “Jason [Kreis] was there. He walked the field, and he said that it was potentially dangerous. Certainly we all wanted to play the game, but to play it on an unsafe surface would not have been a good choice.”
Lagerwey said he understands the importance of MLS team’s taking on high-profile teams in friendly matches, even if those games fall during the league season.
“I think specifically for new teams, [it’s important],” Lagerwey said.
RSL played a high-profile friendly themselves during their second season, taking on Real Madrid on Aug. 12, 2007. Although Lagerwey wasn’t with the club at the time, he said he recognized the importance of that match to RSL’s development as a club.
“I think playing Real Madrid in the [second] year of the franchise was a big deal,” he admitted. “That was a really good move, and something that really increased the profile and attention that the franchise received both locally and regionally. So I do think that there is a real viable role for playing these friendlies.”
At one time the team regularly brought in foreign clubs — such as Club América, Boca Juniors and Everton — for friendlies, but he admitted that they’ve switched strategies.
“It was based on feedback from our fans,” Lagerwey said. “The phrase that they used was, ‘Trophies, not friendlies.’ We got that in meeting after meeting with supporters' groups and with different elements of our fan base.”
This has been the reason that RSL has given so much attention to the CONCACAF Champions League — and the various avenues to qualify for that tournament.
“At the time, when we shifted focus a couple of years ago, we honestly didn’t know how it was going to go," Lagerwey said. "We qualified for CONCACAF, and I think it’s been a phenomenon as to how well our community has received that. So we’re going to do our darndest to try to get back into CONCACAF, to try to give our fans what they want — and try to win our franchise some trophies.”