clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Talking Teitur Thordarson

Teitur gives us a wave.
Teitur gives us a wave.

With this team, no cows are too sacred. That's not a bad thing: the team would be worse off if we were blinded by loyalty to Jay Nolly, Greg Janicki, Wes Knight, or other old favourites. But it becomes difficult to consider these players objectively. Some old Whitecaps fans will stick up for players who were fine at another level but could conceivably be struggling at this one. Some newer fans could react to this and try to slaughter preconceptions with so much vigour that they lose sight of the truth.

Some of this criticism has been directed towards Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson. Thordarson has been one of the most popular figures in the Whitecaps organization for a few years now: the Southsiders have chants in his honour and created a lovely poster displaying his image to carry around the stadium. He's affable but professional, personable but talented, a veteran of European leagues who has regardless made a smooth adjustment to North America. No wonder he's popular. But at the same time, particularly in recent weeks, he's been earning his doubters. With just one win so far in the league, there are some souls who suggest that Thordarson might be over his head in Major League Soccer, that he's too inflexible and simply a step behind. Montreal Impact coach Marc dos Santos, no Mourinho himself, even declared before Wednesday's Voyageurs Cup match that he had Thordarson's number technically.

Well, Teitur and the Whitecaps won that game. They've won a few games over the past few years, and when they've drawn or lost I don't think Thordarson has been the main reason. I don't agree with everything Teitur Thordarson does, and I don't think he's the most strategically sound coach in Major League Soccer. But I firmly believe that, with Teitur at the helm, the Whitecaps remain in good hands.

I haven't been afraid to criticize some of Teitur Thordarson's moves in the past. I think that he sometimes neglects his fullbacks: some of the club's weakest players in recent years such as Blake Wagner, Willis Forko, and possibly Jonathan Leathers got time at fullback simply because Teitur places such huge emphasis on the centre of the pitch. Even in cases where he's had good players at the position like Wes Knight, Alain Rochat, and Takashi Hirano, he's simply moved those players around like pawns to fill whatever hole comes up instead of maintaining continuity.

Moreover, and this is surprising from an old striker, but Thordarson's handling of his forwards has sometimes been open to question. The infamous 2010 season stands out, of course, but even this year he's made questionable decisions. Throughout his career Thordarson has loved big bodies up front, and it's no coincidence that the best forwards of his tenure have been guys like Charles Gbeke, Marcus Haber, and Eric Hassli. He's given small guys like Cornelius Stewart, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, or Camilo Sanvezzo opportunities, but he's been far, far quicker to pull a small player when he's struggling than a big one. Of all the classic target men Teitur's ever had, only Marlon James stands out as a guy who may not have gotten a fair shake, and even James suffered frequently from injuries and inconsistency (he looks good only by comparison to how bad the rest of the 2010 scorers looked).

Finally, Thordarson has been criticized for tactical inflexibility. He loves his 4-4-2 and he loves his direct play, say the critics. Certainly, Vancouver has run a 4-4-2 in regular season play since 2009 and there have been many long balls in that time.

But I think this criticism is unjustified. There's nothing wrong with a 4-4-2: it's the most conventional of all formations but it might be the most effective. Moreover, Thordarson has shown extensive variation within the 4-4-2. His 2010 lineup was very traditional, with the midfielders more-or-less playing as a line through the middle with the primary goal of moving the ball up to the strikers. In 2011 the Whitecaps have relied far more on offensive wing play: taking advantage of speed merchants like Leathers, Knight, and Russell Teibert, as well as skilled on-the-ball players like Rochat and Davide Chiumiento, the Whitecaps have tried to develop much more of their offense out wide. The result has been a very different team, tactically, than the Whitecaps we were used to last season and one which has been generally effective offensively.

Moreover, Thordarson has been willing to break from the orthodoxy of a 4-4-2 when he thought it necessary. During last season's playoffs, Thordarson played Martin Nash as a withdrawn striker playing balls for Cody Arnoux and the like, and he tried to repeat the experiment this year in the preseason with Atiba Harris up top and Davide Chiumiento withdrawn. However, with the injury to Shea Salinas depriving him of options on the wing, as well as the emergence of decent alternate strikers like Sanvezzo and Hassli, Thordarson went back to a more conventional 4-4-2. There's nothing wrong with that; indeed, it's hard to think of a formation that could better use the team's personnel from top to bottom. It's said that Davide Chiumiento isn't quick enough to play the wing, but he's the best option on the right side until Salinas gets back and, besides, Chiumiento isn't good enough to build the entire team around his abilities.

Meanwhile, Teitur's been willing to bench his old second division favourites. Jay Nolly was the backup goalkeeper in preseason until Joe Cannon got hurt, and frankly I think Nolly has done well enough to keep the job (but that's a story for another day). Wes Knight was one of the Whitecaps' minutes leaders the last two seasons but has seen spot duty, mostly out of his natural position on the right wing. Nizar Khalfan was one of Vancouver's leading scorers last year and this year is an impact substitute. Guys like Philippe Davies who played regular roles last season are nowhere to be found, whereas the division two players who have turned into core members of the MLS team like Terry Dunfield and Gershon Koffie have unquestionably earned their places. It's a rare manager who's willing to look beyond past service and focus on what a player can contribute today; luckily Thordarson is that sort of man. Moreover, by all accounts, he's sidelined a few former regulars without causing any ill will or trouble in the dressing room. That's not always easy to do.

Again, I don't agree with everything Teitur does. But he does far more good for this team than harm. The Whitecaps are struggling a bit so far this year, but it's Thordarson's fault least of all.