It can be said that a football club is only as good as its spine. Much like the human vertebrae, the four central pieces of a club are its goalkeeper, senior centre back, central midfielder, and striker. Having missed last year's cup competition, both Vancouver and Min United made extensive changes to their spines during the winter.
Tonight, Vancouver pitched Maxime Crépeau, Érik Godoy, Jon Erice, and Fredy Montero against Min United's Vito Mannone, Ike Opara, Darwin Quintero, and Romario Ibarra. Of the eight, only Quintero and Ibarra are holdovers from 2018, both having joined mid-season. Perhaps it is telling that both players saw their name added to the score sheet. Stability counts for a lot.
Still, it was Vancouver newcomer Godoy who opened the account in the 6th minute. Minnesota United manager Adrian Heath and goalkeeper Mannone will be forgiven if they want that one back, as Godoy was given ample space to get on the other end of a Yordy Reyna cross.
Francisco Calvo came close to equalising in the 32nd minute, beating Crépeau, but not the crossbar. United kept coming, and in the 36th minute, Jake Nerwinski conceded a clear penalty, which Quintero ably put into the back of the net. Crépeau guessed right, but he was never going to stop that ball.
After the break, Quintero found Calvo in the 66th minute. The Costa Rican defender's header would have made former Vancouver captain Kendall Waston proud, as the Loons completed the comeback.
And for good measure, in the 70th minute, Ibarra deflected the ball off Godoy to put the visitors up 3-1. As it turned out, they would need the insurance goal, as 11 minutes later, Doneil Henry got a free header, ensuring that the final 9 minutes plus stoppage time would be nervy.
Despite their mistakes, Minnesota managed to hold on for the victory, only their fifth one away from home in the Major League. Meanwhile, Marc Dos Santos earned the dubious distinction of becoming only the fourth Vancouver manager in their 40 year history to start with a loss. Eckhard Krautzun lost 2-2 to Portland in 1976 and Johnny Giles lost 1-1 to San Diego. Unfortunately, you read that right. At the time, NASL used penalty shootouts to decide draws.
Perhaps a fairer comparison would be Dale Mitchell, another Canadian, who saw Vancouver fall 4-2 to Seattle in 2000. The rest, Jim Easton, Holger Osieck, Tony Waiters, Bob McNab, Alan Hinton, Bob Lenarduzzi, Carl Valentine, Tony Fonseca, Bob Lilley, Teitur Þórðarson, Tom Soehn, Martin Rennie, and Carl Robinon, all saw Vancouver earn at least a draw on their debut.
But how many of them saw nine players make their debut for the club? Easton to be sure, and very likely Lenarduzzi, as the former managed Vancouver's inaugural season, and the latter took over a club that had just come off a two year hiatus.
Football can be a funny game. Remove two schoolboy errors, add a dash of luck, and the match would have finished 4-0 for United. Instead, Vancouver starts the season with a loss, but only a negative one goal differential. The first match is in the books, and there's still a lot of football left to play.
Time will tell whether this is the start of something greater, or a call back to the 2011 campaign. That year started with a 4-2 victory over Toronto, so it just goes to show how little the first match can mean.
By the time Vancouver returns to BC Place on 30 March, when they'll face Seattle Sounders FC, we'll have a much clearer picture of how the season might unfold, as they face tricky away fixtures to Salt Lake on 9 March and Houston on 16 March.
No one can say what the season will entail, but there is one thing we can be certain of. They'll look good in their new hoop kits.