The defining moments of Whitecaps 2011 part 2: coaching catastropheNovember 21, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Posted in Whitecaps Season 2011 | 8 Comments
If there was a colossal blunder of the Vancouver Whitecaps 2011 season, it was the firing of Coach Teitur Thordarson after the first 12 MLS games. When Thordarson was fired, the Whitecaps MLS record was not great, but was respectable for an expansion franchise: one win, 5 losses (4 on the road) and six ties for 11 points was not a bad record for a starter club. The Whitecaps were 13 goals for, 17 against for a minus 4 GAA.
When you look at two of those ties, the home matches v Kansas City and the NE Revolution, it was clear that Teitur could coach the team to some extraordinary football achievements. Better still, the team was scoring goals. At least the Whitecaps were exciting when under Teitur.
After firing Thordarson, the Whitecaps put Director of Soccer Operations Tom Soehn, a man whose coaching pedigree and tactical understanding was far inferior, in charge of coaching the club after Teitur. Sadly, in doing so, the Whitecaps had unwittingly thrown in the towel for the year. The Whitecaps fared even worse after Soehn took over, and his record over the next 12 MLS games was worse than Teitur’s: 3 ties 7losses and two wins for 10 points. During Soehn’s early reign the Whitecaps had goals for of 12, and goals against 23 for a minus 11 GAA. The statistics don’t lie: the team was poorer under Soehn.
Whereas Teitur played what I would characterize as direct attacking football with solid simple defending, Soehn had the team playing some kind of murky possession football which resulted in some incredibly dull matches and some embarrassing defeats, notably to LA and DC United, both lost 4-0. Even if we fans had a hard time figuring out what Soehn was doing, the players themselves seemed to understand it even less, as the morale in the squad went South and never really recovered.
The player who Soehn brought in to play his shapeless game was Peter Vagenas. Vagenas, whose historical accomplishments in Major League Soccer are considerable, is basically yesterday’s man, a throwback to when the MLS had less quality. Vagenas had a very limited passing range, could not defend or score, and was incapable of actually running faster than a canter. That Soehn actually put this man in centre midfield to define this new style of play was astonishing, and it took him near the end of the season to figure it out other players, such as Khalfan, could actually attack, cross the ball, score and run quickly.
Soehn went about blindly putting players from the squad into games whom Teitur had recognized as second-rate. Players such as Morfaw, Duckett and Nanchoff had runs out and were quite shockingly bad and below MLS quality.
While it is all reading tea leaves at this point, I believe the team would have fared better under Thordarson. The Whitecaps took the impatient approach and fired the man who, In my view, would have led the team to greater respectability. Even if it is unlikely we would have made the play offs, I figure we were good enough to be at least level with Chivas USA, and we most certainly would not have finished in last place. Even if Teitur was not the man for 2012, they could have kept Rennie’s appointment a secret and fired Teitur in the off season.
To make matters worse, the Whitecaps brass announced in Mid-August 2011 that Martin Rennie would be taking over as head coach, but not until the 2012 season. This announcement rendered the hapless Soehn a complete dead duck, and the team responded by being beaten 4-0 by DC United in their worst performance of the season. While the Rennie announcement was good for the club, it was terrible for the 2011 season, which was effectively turned into a string of exhibition games for the players to show who could stick around for 2012. Some players, noticeably Hassli and Chiumineto, appeared to lose all interest in playing and were eventually replaced by young players of lesser quality who were more hungry for a 2012 spot.
All in all, poor and untimely decisions regarding coaching personel by our front office set the tone for a very poor season on the pitch. Though the team went on to get five more wins under Soehn, Some of the performances later on in the season were a disgrace to the club, in particular the BC Place opener against Portland, and the last game of the season against Colorado. Watching these games led me to the conclusion that much of the squad needed to be replaced, even some sacred cows such as Chiumiento.
The ironic thing about all of this is that you can count on Martin Rennie playing a style closer to Teitur Thordarson than to Tommy Soehn. Thank god for that.