The Whitecaps organization shocked the majority of the MLS world when they announced the firing of Teitur Thordarson from the position of head coach. It is very rare that an expansion team in any sport makes a move like this because of their record and where they are in the standings. The first year is normally a learning experience for everyone but the letting go of Thordarson shows of the high expectations the top of the Vancouver’s organization has for the club. At the press conference the Whitecaps named Director of Soccer Operations Tom Soehn as their manager for the remainder of the season.
Since the opening victory on March 19 against TFC, the Whitecaps have suffered five losses and have had to settle for six draws including last weekend against New York. When you include the Nutrilite games played against Montreal and Toronto their overall record for this year was two wins, five losses and eight draws. What was especially pointed out at the press conference was their record at home which includes just a single win in seven MLS and two Nutrilite matches. The majority of those matches were in front of raucous crowds which should have been a factor in turning Empire into a fortress for the opposition. It was deemed by the organization at the presser that the next three games will be the breaking point for the season if the Caps wish to contend for a playoff spot and they did not see it turning around unless a change was made.
The organization felt that there was no way that the current set up would be able to turn things around which sounds like they had no confidence that Thordarson would be changing his tactics. Teitur was unwavering from his belief that his 4-4-2 formation was the only option for the Whitecaps. Even though there was some experimentation with a 4-2-3-1 formation in the preseason, which seemed to work, once the season started the head coach went back to his first choice. In only two of the matches this season have the Caps scored more than one goal and despite this Thordarson was unwavering saying the formation will work.
Another contentious issue seems to be what the best position was the best fit for the team’s best playmaker, Davide Chiumiento, in the starting eleven. When the Swiss international signed it was clear in interviews with the player that he saw himself as a withdrawn striker or at least an attacking midfielder. Chiumineto played well in the experimental formation in the preseason as he set up a number of goals but when the season started he was put in a wide position either on the right or left side. When injuries hit the central midfield Thordarson brought on the rookie Brovsky, Harmse and even Khalfan to play those roles but did give his most creative player a shot.
With the additional departure of goalkeeper coach Mike Salmons it was also clear that the higher ups were not satisfied that their $200,000 goalkeeper was sitting on the bench behind Jay Nolly. While Nolly has had some great games recently there were multiple times early in the season when Thordarson could have brought in Joe Cannon to change things up but he stuck with Nolly. Another issue could have been the rotation that Thordarson claimed the team needed when there was a lot of fixture congestion. However there was little rotation until the road trip to face the Revloution when Thordarson put out virtually a second unit and lost a winnable game on a penalty kick.
Even with the facts presented it was still too early for the Caps to unload their first coach in MLS as there were many things working against Thordarson in his first year in MLS. The team suffered a large number of injuries that even an experienced franchise would not be able to handle including their captain and leader of the backline Jay DeMerit who injured his groin while on international duty and then reinjured it when he rushed back into the lineup. A couple of MLS veterans, Salinas and Thorrington, picked up in the expansion draft have missed the majority of the season with injuries with only Salinas recently returning to the starting eleven and Thorrington only playing in half a game. Another player selected in the draft, Atiba Harris, started the year very well but then suffered an injury that has sidelined him for an extended period.
Then there was the loss of designated player Eric Hassli to suspension as the striker missed three full and part of two matches due to a collection of yellow and red cards. Hassli was unable to get used to the refereeing in MLS and it affected his style of play when he would return to the line-up. After all these suspensions it is only in the last three games that Hassli seems to have found his groove in the MLS.
There must also be questions about the player acquisitions that Tom Soehn delivered to Thordarson as there were definite holes in the lineup. At the MLS Super Draft the Whitecaps picked 17-year-old Omar Salgado knowing there might not be a chance to see the pitch until September. Luckily for them there was an exception made but it is also clear that Salgado is a raw talent who is learning his trade and would not make an immediate impact like other choices could have. Their other pick, left midfielder Michael Nanchoff, has also been injured since the offseason and has yet to see playing time. If Chiumiento was not brought in to play in the centre of the pitch then the club failed also to bring in a creative box to box midfielder. Both Dunfield and Koffie are miscast for that position as they both should be considered as holding midfielders.
There also has to be questions as to if Thordarson had the full backing of the organization from the beginning of the season. In the three seasons in Division 2, he led them to a couple of appearances in the finals, winning in 2008, and last year made it to the semi-final losing to the eventual champions. He was highly regarded by the supporters group of the Whitecaps, The Southsiders, who had one chant dedicated to the man in charge. If Thordarson was thought of in the same way by the club why was he only signed to a one year plus option contract before the season started. It made him a lame duck before the season started which is never a good place for any coach to be in.
As the Whitecaps were preparing for their first MLS season there were many pressers of announcements where someone in the organization would proclaim that their goal was to be a top 25 club in the world. While these types of proclamations sounded great at the time it is obvious that there is a lot of pressure for the Whitecaps to do better than one victory in twelve league matches, expansion team or not. The Caps have only lost one game by more than one goal so they were competitive in every match but will a coaching change from Thordarson to Soehn make the difference and bring a change of fortune for the club. While the supporters have their doubts it is clear that the front office believe that this expansion team is worthy of the playoffs in their initial season.