Kim Stallknecht/Getty Images
This was a late-breaking story, but it was a long time coming.
By the time the Whitecaps finally played at the newly renovated BC Place, the team was in trouble. They lost to heated rivals Portland Timbers. Eric Hassli hadn't scored in months, Davide Chiumiento had seemingly disappeared, and the Whitecaps were playing in a highly disjointed and often listless fashion. Outspoken leaders Jay DeMerit and Joe Cannon would take the players to task publicly in the hopes that they would rise to the occasion and end the season on a high note.
Something had to be done.
And on Oct. 6, 2011, something was done.
Greeting Real Salt Lake that day was an unfamiliar starting XI that featured new signing Carlyle Mitchell at centre-back, Alain Rochat at left-back, Jordan Harvey at left-midfield, John Thorrington in centre-midfield alongside Gershon Koffie and Nizar Khalfan at right-midfield.
And starting up front alongside Camilo was Long Tan, the first Chinese-born player in the MLS.
The new blood was just what the team needed, and through a fantastic team effort, the Blue and White recorded a 3-0 win on goals by Camilo and Khalfan.
But, while he didn't get on the score sheet, one of the standout players of the night was Long Tan. Although he made a few token appearances in early games, the man from Dalian really hadn't featured much in coach Tommy Soehn's plans. But those few appearances later on, especially one in which he provided a brilliant assist for Shea Salinas' first Whitecap goal against Houston, earned him the RSL start.
And he certainly didn't disappoint, turning in a solid industrious performance up front that brought joy to an entire stadium. He followed up by scoring his first ever MLS goal, and the first ever by a Chinese player, against DC United in the next game.
Suddenly, Tan was trending in Vancouver, and fans were chanting his name.
But even as he has made an impact on the pitch, he has also made a startling impact off it.
Vancouver is a multi-cultural city, and one of the largest ethnic groups is the Chinese. All of a sudden, this massive cultural section of the population had a folk hero, a sports hero, in one of the most sports-happy cities in the world.
It's no wonder that the media started knocking on the Whitecaps' door, or that Chinese reporters and cameramen turned up at Vancouver's YVR airport to see the team—to see Long Tan—off to his next game against Dallas.
Paul Barber, CEO of the Whitecaps, wasn't blind to the media attention, either. And it's no coincidence that the Whitecaps banner on their Facebook page was modified to include Tan's visage.
It will be interesting to see how they push him next year.