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We Know At Last: Thordarson to Coach Vancouver in MLS

It was a well-kept secret in a very literal sense. There were no leaks about who Vancouver's MLS coach would end up being. There weren't a lot of rumours about interviews with other candidates, or for that matter rumours about a lack of interviews with other candidates. Nobody, in short, was blabbing.

Of course, it was a poorly-kept secret in that we all know it was going to be Teitur Thordarson. Portland named their coach, we named a new director of football with extensive MLS experience. The fans kept talking themselves into Teitur - he's got extensive international and North American experience, he was overqualified for the USL-1 job when he took it so don't be fooled by the "second division" thing, and the simple truth is that he's done an excellent job. We kept bringing in new players apparently destined for a shot at the MLS roster and there was Teitur, managing them in limbo, which presumably wouldn't have been happening if the front office didn't have faith in the Icelandic veteran.

Teitur's taken a team savaged by injury and constant roster turmoil that was no fault of his own, one where he couldn't count on having the same starting eleven for any two weeks in a row, and has it in a position to contend for a third consecutive finals appearance. He spent the winter ferociously training his players full-time so their fitness would be up to snuff in the latter part of the season, saw it just starting to pay results as his adversaries started to falter in the late minutes and his charges started to pour it on, then saw all those players he had rounded into shape replaced by expensive European-based mercenaries and long-shot kids everybody has high hopes but no expectations for, all of whom are playing USSF D2 in 2010 just for the shot at MLS in 2011.

Also, the former international striker still hasn't got any even halfway-capable strikers of his own. The fact that he's turning the raw, fast but erratic Cornelius Stewart into someone increasingly capable of providing offense in USSF D2 is halfway to a miracle.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I'm in favour of Teitur Thordarson as our first Major League Soccer coach. He's paid his dues, won his games, and earned his chance. But much more than any such empty platitudes, he's a good coach with a good record at the MLS sort of level around Europe, whose players like him, and whose teams can rarely be accused of playing less well than they are capable. I'm not sure what other candidates out there could improve upon that record.

There's a school of thought in favour of replacing Teitur Thordarson that criticizes him for perceived tactical inflexibility. I've never seen it. He's been accused of constantly playing a long-ball style that those familiar with the Even Pellerud oeuvre would find familiar, and certainly he has been known to employ such tactics when that's what his team was best suited for. Last year it was not uncommon for the strategy to be "get the ball upfield as quickly as possible and let Gbeke either get a long ball and score or scare the opposing defense so thoroughly that Haber can go for a run and score". It was simple and unvaried, but as long as you had the human monolith Charles Gbeke capable of unleashing furious, high-powered hell given the opportunity and the quicker, more agile Marcus Haber available it was an effective enough one and it got the Whitecaps to within an ace of the league championship.

This season, I've seen far less of that. There's been much more building through the centre of the park, which is part of the reason Martin Nash has been so much more positively noticed this season than last. The defense has activated into the attack more, and with a rogue's gallery of strikers going up front as Thordarson has tried to find one that fits he certainly can't be accused of inflexibility with a legion of efforts to get them appropriate service. Only Randy Edwini-Bonsu ever saw many long balls and in his case he's just so bloody quick that if you got him into a foot race with a defender he'd probably win. He is capable of adjusting his strategy to his players, which is a good thing when you've had such an immense variety of them.

The other primary objection to Thordarson runs in different terms. MLS has a salary cap on its players but not on its non-playing staff. There are a bevy of forced parity rules that restrict clubs on acquiring players, but these don't apply to coaches. The coaching staff is one area where a team owned by a billionaire can gain a serious advantage on its poorer Major League Soccer sisters. So a head coach is a good area to spend a disproportionate amount of money, because it won't restrict the club's operations in other ways. Say, anyone have Jose Mourinho's phone number? Arsene Wenger's been stuck in London a long time, maybe he'd like to sample some West Coast cooking. We all know Sven-Goran Eriksson will do anything for money. And so on.

Of course, any chance at a big name European coach went out the window as soon as Tom Soehn was hired because there aren't many famous expensive managers who'd put up with being "Dennis Wise"d, as it were. But it's an interesting thought. It's true that many big named lured to North America as coaches have struggled, but so have more than a few big-name players. Others have been successes. Like everything else it would have been a matter of choosing the right coach - Bob Bradley knows a thing or two about North American soccer, and if Barber and Soehn had opened the doors of the Kerfoot family vault and asked Bradley to take what he thought was fair, maybe he would have come over during that turmoil over his role in the American national team. There are other examples I can't be bothered to recite right now, because I don't subscribe to the view at all. Thordarson has proven he can handle North America, its unique situations, its combination of big egos and lesser lights, and the odd soccer culture that has haphazardly burst up around here. That's not to be discounted. His contract is one year with an option for two more, so if by chance Thordarson is inexplicably overwhelmed by the move to MLS the Whitecaps can get out cheap and throw money around in 2012.

I'm not worried in the least. I'm a big Teitur tot, and am glad I can continue to be in 2011.

Teitur Thordarson Facts:

  • Thordarson capped 41 times and scored nine goals for Iceland between 1972 and 1985. His combined Whitecaps roster has scored eleven international goals for Japan, Tanzania, and Canada. Peter Vermes of Kansas City is the leading international scorer among current MLS coaches with eleven for the United States, and Thordarson is tied with Houston's Dominic Kinnear for second. However, Thordarson played fewer matches, so I'm giving Teitur the edge.
  • His last name, "Thordarson", means "son of Thordar". Bet you didn't know that one.
  • As head coach of the Estonian senior men's national team, Thordarson moved Estonia up 77 spots. Their final ranking under Thordarson was 68th. Canada is currently 101st.
  • He's a holder of the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, fourth class, which sounds like something out of a seaQuest DSV fanfic.