I've asked a lot now of Rochat and DeMerit to solve things before they become problems. I don't think we're doing a good enough job of that [. . .] If we don't solve it, then we need to find someone who can.
That was Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Tom Soehn as quoted in an even-more-excellent-than-usual article by the Vancouver Province's Marc Weber. As the saying goes, read the whole thing.
Tom Soehn will be head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps for five more games before he is put out of his misery. Jay DeMerit is the captain of the club and one of its most popular players; Alain Rochat is probably the single finest player on the team (with apologies to Eric Hassli). In our most recent game against Seattle Rochat was suspended while DeMerit was involved in all three goals against: a rough night at the office but nobody can say that he lacked effort or that he wasn't vocal. DeMerit's been one of the only Whitecaps you can rely on to give his best every game.
You can complain about DeMerit's play at times, and in fact I have. But there's a gulf between acknowledging a core player can do more to help the team and calling him out in the press. Rochat has been playing out of position but, taking that into account, has been borderline impeccable. The problems in defense lately have been on the flanks where Jordan Harvey, Jonathan Leathers, John Thorrington, and Jeb Brovsky have been plying their abominable trades. It's true that one of the central defender's jobs is to rally the fullbacks, but if DeMerit could make Brovsky magically learn a new position or Rochat could make Harvey magically give a crap they wouldn't be defenders, they'd be wizards.
A handful of Whitecaps fans are defending Soehn, saying he's simply trying to motivate the team. Probably true, but most are upset at his methods. Even if this is an effective way to fire up the Whitecaps days before opening BC Place against our biggest rivals, neither Rochat nor DeMerit deserve a public spanking while there are plenty of players who do.
It's ridiculous. What's Tommy Dreamer doing?
If Soehn wants to blame someone for our defense, he should look in the mirror. Under Teitur Thordarson this team allowed 1.417 goals per game in MLS play, whereas under Soehn we're allowing 1.882 goals per game. Sack Teitur, concede nearly half a goal more. Teitur's defense was on the poorer end of "middle of the pack"; Soehn's defense is dead last despite not losing any players who weren't deliberately cut.
Did Soehn mis-speak? It's possible and we should extend him some benefit of the doubt. It's been as a frustrating year for Soehn as anybody and, if he senses that DeMerit and Rochat aren't leading the team like they should, he might have spoken sharply when he didn't mean to. Obviously it would be a regrettable lapse for a coach to do that but it's possible.
Then again, I say a lot of bad things about Tom Soehn but I can't say he's stupid. When he's dealing with the media he's very good at picking his words carefully and defending his players. Maybe Marc Weber wheedled some nastiness from Soehn in a long conversation and just printed the bad stuff, but my estimation of Soehn is that he seldom says anything by accident.
Besides, if Soehn wanted to vent on the Whitecaps there are loads of better candidates. Harvey, for one, has looked miserable and useless since he joined Vancouver. He's a veteran defender brought in to stabilize the left side but his effort level is zero and he's been less effective than the much-maligned Blake Wagner. Jonathan Leathers has clearly checked out as well. Forwards such as Eric Hassli are much less consistent than Rochat or DeMerit while being just as high-profile, and in midfield Peter Vagenas doesn't so much deserve criticism as crucifixion.
I can't imagine how Tom Soehn's remarks won't, short term, do more harm than good. DeMerit's had a couple tussles with the organization already (remember earlier in the season when he was frustrated after a game then sat in the stands during practice talking to Bob Lenarduzzi?) but has been utterly class on the field as well as with the fans. Can anybody argue that DeMerit isn't already giving everything he has for the team? How is lighting a fire under his ass going to help when his ass is already plenty hot? If you're building resentment towards the Whitecaps from your popular, effective captain, how can that possibly be a good thing?
As for Rochat, he was moved out of position when Soehn released Mouloud Akloul in a still-unexplained decision. He's clearly not best-suited to be a central defender but that's not his fault and he's still playing pretty well. In a miserable time for the Whitecaps when almost anybody from the fans to the CEO can be a scapegoat, you'd have to search a long time to find somebody who blames Alain Rochat for our current struggles.
Maybe Soehn is trying to get the players' backs up? He has a job after this year as Director of Soccer Operations, after all. Martin Rennie, by all accounts, is a pleasant coach who gets along well with his players. If Soehn, as Director of Football, is the "bad cop" and Rennie is the "good cop", that would make a well-balanced relationship. There's no denying parts of this team need a good kick up the butt sometimes; there's also no denying that a few of the players have tuned Soehn out as a coach but having a "hard man" upstairs going forward isn't a bad idea. I'm picturing Soehn pointing to Rennie and affecting an Icelandic accent. "You good, me bad."
On the other hand, maybe Soehn is trying to get fired. Maybe Soehn wanted to coach the Whitecaps, got his wish, failed utterly, and is trying to burn his bridges so he can get out of his job as Director of Soccer Operations. I've seen this suggested by Whitecaps fans seemingly in earnest. Maybe he's just pissed off and bitter and doesn't want to take it anymore.
Or maybe, just like when he plays Jeb Brovsky at right back and Russell Teibert at left and throws Camilo Sanvezzo on the wing, Tom Soehn is a reasonably smart man who just can't coach a soccer team.