A soccer dynasty that won four straight Canadian Soccer League championships
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
The Vancouver Whitecaps of the Major League Soccer (MLS) are the main professional soccer team in Vancouver. But 30 years ago, another soccer team, the Vancouver 86ers, was in their apex—capturing the hearts of local soccer fans.
After the North American Soccer League (NASL) folded in 1984 (Vancouver Whitecaps were in this league), the city of Vancouver was without a professional soccer team. Canada would later qualify for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. After the tournament, there was a resurgence in interest for getting a professional soccer league operating in Canada—led by Dale Barnes, founding commissioner of the Canadian Soccer League (CSL) in 1986.
The CSL began playing a year later with eight teams (13 teams in total during the league’s six-year history). One of the eight teams joining the league in their inaugural season was the Vancouver 86ers. The team was led by player/head coach and former Whitecaps player, Bob Lenarduzzi.
The 86ers would soon become a dynasty; they were the New York Islanders of the soccer pitch—winning four consecutive CSL championships from 1988 to 1991. The team played their home games at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby. It was a great location featuring beautiful and picturesque mountain views when looking northwards.
The Vancouver 86ers made their CSL debut at home on June 7, 1987, with 7,646 people in attendance. The 86ers defeated the Edmonton Brickmen 4 to 2, with Carl Valentine scoring the franchise’s first-ever goal—a beautiful hard curling shot into the top corner. In 1989, the 86ers set a North American professional sports record by going 46 consecutive games without a defeat.
Furthermore, the 86ers had a strong core of talented offensive players—their chemistry was seamless. Notable players included Carl Valentine, John Catliff, Dale Mitchell, Ivor Evans, and the late Domenic Mobilio. Mobilio was a gifted offensive star in the CSL. He had an innate ability to find open space and score goals, as evidenced by his astounding 170 career goals over 14 seasons with the 86ers (later he turned to the Whitecaps). In 1991, Mobilio scored 25 goals, a CSL scoring record—and also winning the CSL MVP award.
“[It was] really just being a part of a good team that played good attacking soccer on a nice grass pitch in our hometown in front of family, friends, and the soccer community. It was a lot of fun to be a part of the goals, wins, and championships,” – Dale Mitchell
For striker Dale Mitchell, he has fond memories playing for the 86ers. “[It was] really just being a part of a good team that played good attacking soccer on a nice grass pitch in our hometown in front of family, friends, and the soccer community. It was a lot of fun to be a part of the goals, wins, and championships,” Mitchell said in an email interview with the Other Press. As well, Mitchell remembers how talented and dangerous Domenic Mobilio was—as he sensed a scoring chance instinctively. “Dom first of all had a great touch; everything stuck to him,” Mitchell said. “Next, he was a sweet striker of a ball, could generate power with the side of his foot but also could ping it hard with accuracy [….] He could anticipate where the next chance was coming from.”
“Dom first of all had a great touch; everything stuck to him,” Mitchell said.
The CSL folded in 1992 and the Vancouver 86ers would move to the American Professional Soccer League (APSL) in 1993. The league would later join the United Soccer League (USL) in 1997, as part of the A-League—later renamed the United Soccer League (USL). Then in 2001, the team changed their name back to the Whitecaps (the current name today) before joining Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2011.
Christian Parlee, who operates the CSL Memories 1987 website, says the Vancouver 86ers were a special team. “The legacy of the 86ers is pretty incredible and for the most part slept on, [unknown or unacknowledged],” Parlee said in an email interview with the Other Press. “The 86ers had a brilliant mix of past legends (Carl Valentine), future legends (Dale Mitchell, [Domenic] Mobilio), and workmen like players (Jamie Lowery, Stephen Burns) all understanding and playing their roles incredibly well and in synchronicity.” He went on to say: “Ideally how special this club is, to North America and to Canadian soccer, will be realized over time with increasing awareness of Canadian Soccer and the earlier contributions of the CSL.”
“I think the people that went to Swangard or watched on TSN back then will recall a good attacking team that was always fun to watch and won a lot.” – Dale Mitchell
Notably, the 1989 Vancouver 86ers team were inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. In September 2016, a special alumni game was played at BC Place between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Vancouver 86ers—to mark the 30th anniversary of the 86ers’ formation. Significantly, for Dale Mitchell, he hopes fans will remember the 86ers as a team who brought a combination of speed, skill, and offensive prowess: “I think the people that went to Swangard or watched on TSN back then will recall a good attacking team that was always fun to watch and won a lot.”