This morning, the Vancouver Whitecaps gave us a pleasant surprise by signing Caleb Clarke from the Whitecaps Residency. And they followed it up with bad news: Residency head coach and technical director Richard Grootscholten is on his way out of Vancouver.
Grootscholten, 46 years old, was hired a year and a half ago as the long-term successor to former technical director Thomas Niendorf. He coached the USL PDL team to fairly good success and has the U-18 team well on its way to the playoffs, as well as assisting Craig Dalrymple with the U-16s and of course overseeing the program as a whole.
It's obvious that Grootscholten had Vancouver's respect; in the wake of his resignation we're seeing disappointment from all quarters of the soccer community. With his contract reportedly expiring this summer, Grootscholten seems to have just decided to move on, but nobody can say he hasn't done his job. This year, Grootscholten has led both Bryce Alderson and Caleb Clarke to the first team roster, and he had a hand in USL PDL regulars such as Long Tan as well.
There'll be plenty of gossip over this sudden announcement when, outwardly, Grootscholten seemed very happy in Vancouver. Given Stuart Neely's appointment earlier this year as head of player management and development, maybe there was some internal friction. On the other hand, Martin Rennie never hesitated to express his respect for Grootscholten, he's certainly glad to have Richard's players, and Neely's role (transitioning players from the Residency to either the first team or elsewhere in soccer) won't necessarily conflict with a development-first job like a technical director.
Grootscholten always conducted himself with the utmost professionalism. Although his coaching in Vancouver will be done with this week, he'll stick around to help manage the transition to his successor. He isn't going out like a bitter man with an axe to grind, and such a quality, classy coach will be missed.
It's always hard to tell how well a youth coach is doing from afar. Attending Residency games, the players and the fellow coaches never showed sign of anything but respect for Grootscholten. He was affable and glad to talk to the fans or the press, was always quick to applaud his supporters and thank them for coming out, and created teams which didn't just win but, much more importantly, saw the individuals improve throughout the season.
Grootscholten was in Vancouver starting in October of 2010, which is not a long time, particularly after the protracted and controversial process which led to his hiring. The Whitecaps parted ways with founding Residency supremo Thomas Niendorf under less than ideal circumstances, with the two disagreeing very strongly about the fundamental direction of the program. A variety of coaches bounced around until Grootscholten was appointed, as everybody thought for the long haul. It was not to be; a lot of the organization has changed since October of 2010 and Grootscholten was in fact one of the longer-serving Whitecaps on the technical side.
Even in his short time in Vancouver Grootscholten saw the arrival of Bryce Alderson from Kitchener, coached him from a slight young man in a bit over his head who had plenty of hype but no experience beyond the CSL Reserve Division to a fine midfielder that handles those ten years his elder. Caleb Clarke, who we were just talking about today, joined the Residency only a month before Grootscholten and went from (frankly) an afterthought to a holder of an MLS contract. Other U-18 players such as Declan Rodriguez, Daniel Stanese, Alex Rowley, Tim Hickson, Callum Irving, and Sean Melvin have also advanced by leaps and bounds while Grootscholten has been in charge.
Not every player Grootscholten touched turned to gold, and there have been a few incidents such as a win forfeited for using a suspended player, but as much as someone can tell from watching Residency games and following roster moves, he brought remarkable success to the Residency program. His loss will be mourned by almost all well-informed Vancouver fans.
The Whitecaps have not announced any succession for Grootscholten. Craig Dalrymple was briefly Residency interim technical director before Grootscholten's arrival and is today assistant technical director and head coach of the U-16 team; he will presumably step in once again until a permanent replacement is named. Dalrymple is a long-time Vancouverite and a good coach in his own right who's a bit less outgoing that Grootscholten but is also achieving nice things with the U-16 team.
Best of luck to Richard Grootscholten whereever he ends up. And best of luck to the Whitecaps trying to fill some awfully big shoes that weren't worn for long enough.