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A Post-Game Rant on the Voyageurs Cup

We are <em>still</em> Teitur Tots. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
We are still Teitur Tots. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)

The better team won. I don't mean that in a "better team on the day" sense, I mean that in "Toronto is the better team, and they won." A Canadian-friendly neutral should be glad for this result because, while Toronto is obviously going to have a tough time in the CONCACAF Champions League, Vancouver under Tom Soehn would have embarrassed us all.

Long-time readers will know how much I hate match referee Dave Gantar and how eager I am to throw responsibility for the result onto his shoulders. Unfortunately, we can't blame the refereeing, which was poor but even: Joao Plata's joke of a penalty made up for Jay DeMerit's joke of a clearance off the line. The penalty never should have happened but the earlier goal should have counted; we can't complain. Nor will I rant about Mikael Yourassowsky clipping Alain Rochat's heels en route to the winning goal: there was contact but it looked incidental and accidental to me with Rochat just being unlucky to lose his balance on the run. A close but fair no call in my books.

I'm going to come back to the coaching. Again and again. I've said before that the Vancouver Whitecaps were bloody lucky to beat the Philadelphia Union and even luckier to draw the Seattle Sounders: as far as my eye can tell, Vancouver hasn't played a good game since Soehn came aboard and the Philadelphia game was the only one that was even decent. For the most part, the Whitecaps have been getting the shit kicked out of them by teams like Toronto, Chivas USA, and Sporting Kansas City.

Under Teitur Thordarson, the Vancouver Whitecaps took on Toronto FC while suffering from a number of key injuries. Yet they thoroughly outplayed Toronto in the home opener (a 4-2 win) and were even more dominant in the first leg of the Voyageurs Cup final that the team was spectacularly unlucky to only draw. In the abortive second leg, Vancouver well outplayed Toronto (although the FCs had some chances) and were en route to a well-earned 1-0 victory. This is without counting the USL-1/USSF D2 Whitecaps' performances where, with the exception of the last match in 2010 where the Cup had already been decided, Vancouver always played Toronto extremely tough and compiled a winning record.

Under Tom Soehn, Toronto has beat the everloving hell out of Vancouver twice.

His prized prodigy Jeb Brovsky was the second-worst player on the field. A goalkeeper he believes in so much he fired Mike Salmon over it, Joe Cannon, could have single-handedly cost Vancouver three goals through rank incompetence on another day. Soehn built the team. Soehn picked Cannon in the expansion draft, writing off $200,000 in valuable salary cap room for an increasingly erratic has-been. Soehn decided that Terry Dunfield can play attacking mid until he realized how crazy this was and put Brovsky in the role (which turned out to be no less crazy). Soehn decided that, when he was playing a must-win game against Toronto FC with his captain limping from a groin problem, Blake Wagner would be adequate insurance against injury. Soehn decided to play the reserves on Wednesday, which I supported, but then he decided as soon as they started losing that he had to wear out Eric Hassli and Camilo Sanvezzo trying to turn the game around, which was completely nuts.

Of course the players aren't blameless. Jonathan Leathers gave Joao Plata far too easy a time most of the night, Jay DeMerit looked like he should have ruled himself out of the lineup, and Michael Boxall's inexperience allowed Toronto's attackers to get around him. The midfield, with the exception of Dunfield, spent too much time trying to crash the ballcarrier, which led to some nice takeaways for Gershon Koffie but also gave Toronto miles of passing room they didn't hesitate to exploit.

Yet how many of those weaknesses were absent when Thordarson coached the team? Under Teitur the central midfield was a position of strength; the ball movement was limited but you simply would not run passes by Dunfield and Koffie. Under Soehn, with the same players, it's been a catastrophic weakness for seven games and counting.

I don't pretend Teitur Thordarson was some wonder coach. He's here as the most convenient point of comparison, not because he's the saviour and we desperately need to bring him back. Detractors said he was overwhelmed in MLS and in ways it seemed like he was: he was sometimes slow to adjust, sometimes held onto his tactical substitutions until it was too late for them to help. Some of the criticisms of Thordarson were unfair but many of them weren't.

The problem is that Thordarson's replacement is leading this team into a spiral of horrible games against mediocre opposition and they're not getting any better. Old strengths are now weaknesses and old weaknesses are not improved. His lineups seem almost whimsical and you have a better chance of making the gameday eighteen if you're one of "his" boys. The players then go out and get creamed, we make excuses, and then the whole thing starts all over again.

Firing Tom Soehn mid-season right after firing Thordarson would make the Whitecaps look like a Mickey Mouse organization. This is undeniably true. But keeping a leader so obviously out of his depth might do far worse damage.