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2014 in Review - Robinson vs. Yallop in Hindsight

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With the Vancouver Whitecaps having earned a playoff berth in dramatic fashion and the Chicago Fire having been nowhere near one, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at how that whole post-Martin Rennie circus played out. Perhaps there are some lessons we can all learn from this.

Chicago Fire head coach and former CanMNT defender Frank Yallop did not have the best season.
Chicago Fire head coach and former CanMNT defender Frank Yallop did not have the best season.
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

PREAMBLE

On June 7th, 2013, San Jose Earthquakes then-head coach Frank Yallop left the team following what was reported as a mutual agreement between Yallop and team president Dave Kaval. At the time, the 'Quakes were 3W-6L-6D in a shocking follow-up to a 2012 season in which they won the Supporters' Shield and earned personal accolades for both Yallop and striker Chris Wondolowksi (Coach of the Year for the former, MVP, the Golden Boot and league Best XI for the latter). Wondolowski in particular was a talking point all season as his goal-scoring pace would see his name added to the league record books by tying "Rocket" Roy Lassiter's sixteen-year-old record for most goals in a single season (27).

On October 29th, 2013, Vancouver Whitecaps then-head coach Martin Rennie was fired following a 13W-12L-9D season that left the 'Caps in 7th place in the Western Conference (13th overall), three points shy of a playoff berth. Rennie lasted all of two Major League Soccer seasons, 2012 and 2013, making the playoffs once (2012, eliminated by Los Angeles Galaxy in the wildcard round) and generating a Golden Boot-winning striker (Camilo Sanvezzo Futboldemort, 2013).

"WAIT, WE'RE NOT GETTING YALLOP?"

Generally speaking, that was the shocked outcry of many 'Caps supporters when Yallop was announced as the head coach of the Chicago Fire barely a day after Rennie's firing. The Yallop-to-Vancouver narrative had been a fait accompli in Vancouver rumour circles for months; when it turned out to be not the case at all, gobs were smacked. Monocles were dropped. Confusion reigned supreme.

As one naturally does in such a situation, the gaze was frantically cast on other rumoured options in hopes of solace. Jason Kreis? Nope. Bob Bradley? Nope. Jesse MarschNope. The man to succeed Rennie would be his former assistant. On December 16th, 2013 - 48 days after Martin Rennie's firing - Carl Robinson was promoted to head coach. Robinson was initially brought in as one of the final pieces of the new coaching staff in 2012 following Rennie's hiring and Robinson's retirement as a player. His promotion to head coach was derided by some as another symptom of incompetence on the part of the Whitecaps front office and praised by others as a decent enough hire. From the comments sections:

what a pathetic joke of an organization tfc has handed off the moron-baton to the whitecaps

--PLarue

Carl brings to the table what Rennie didn’t, mainly the respect that comes from competing at the highest level. The Caps also didn’t leave him with a lot of baggage in terms of the Carolina Railhawks so I will give them their due on that point. In addition, while I can’t put my finger on it, I have a gut feeling that Robinson can give this team an identity in a way the others just couldn’t. I think Carl is smart enough to take the good of Rennie and discard the bad. He does that, we already are ahead for next season.

--Alberta Transplant

Since that hiring, Robinson managed the team to the playoffs with a final-day victory despite the pre-season defection of the team's leading goal-scorer and the injury-forced retirement of team captain Jay DeMerit. Unsurprisingly, the refrain has shifted from "Ugh, we're stuck with this guy instead of Yallop" to "Thank goodness we got this guy and not Yallop!"

THE ROAD NOT TRAVELLED

So, what of Frank Yallop, then - the man common knowledge told us was all but assured to be Rennie's successor? To Yallop's credit, Chicago did enter the MLS record books in their first year under the new coach; unfortunately, it's the record for most draws in a single season. Chicago finished 9th in the Eastern Conference, out of the playoffs with a 6W-10L-18D record and hoping like mad Mike Magee returns next year from his hip surgery with his scoring touch and 2013 MVP credentials intact. Yallop, for his part, is likely hoping the next time his team wants a big-name player will be slightly less of a three-ring circus. Still, it's an interesting view into what might have been for Vancouver. Chicago were only a point better than the Whitecaps at the end of the 2013 season, boasting a clinical finisher and a squad that needed just a few core pieces to help along their crop of rookies.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

With the benefit of hindsight and the league standings, it's easy to say Carl Robinson was the better pick. That's not good enough for me; talk is cheap. Statistics, results, data... that's my cup of tea. Let's pull up some relevant information and see what comparisons and conclusions we can draw:

Player Movement
(in chronological order)

OUT IN
Carl Robinson Frank Yallop Carl Robinson Frank Yallop
D Lee Young-Pyo (retired) GK Paolo Tornaghi (waived) D Christian Dean (SuperDraft) D Lovel Palmer (trade from Real Salt Lake)
D Greg Klazura (option declined) M Arévalo Ríos (option declined) M Andre Lewis (SuperDraft) M Harry Shipp (Homegrown)
GK Joe Cannon (option declined) D Michael Videira (option declined) M Mehdi Ballouchy (Re-Entry Stage 2) GK Kyle Reynish (free)
GK Simon Thomas (option declined) M Corben Bone (option declined) D Steven Beitashour (traded from San Jose) M Chris RItter (Homegrown)
D Brad Rusin (option declined) M Joel Lindpere (option declined) M/F Sebastián Fernández (loan from Boston River) D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (trade from Seattle)
M Jun Marques Davidson (option declined) F Maicon Santos (option declined) M/F Nicolás Mezquida (transfer from Boston River) D Patrick Ianni (trade from Seattle)
M Daigo Kobayashi (option declined) D Shaun Francis (out of contract) GK Paolo Tornaghi (free) F Giuseppe Gentile (waiver draft)
F Tommy Heinemann (option declined) D Wells Thompson (out of contract) M Matías Laba (loan from Toronto) M Benji Joya (weighted lottery)
F Corey Hertzog (option declined) M Daniel Paladini (traded to Columbus) GK Marco Carducci (Homegrown) D Marco Franco (SuperDraft)
GK Brad Knighton (traded to New England) D Jalil Anibaba (traded to Seattle) M Pedro Morales (free transfer) D Greg Cochrane (trade from LA Galaxy)
F Camilo Sanvezzo (transfer to Querétaro) M Brendan King (waived) D Ethen Sampson (Homegrown) M Matt Watson (trade from Vancouver)
M Matt Watson (trade to Chicago) F Kellen Gulley (waived) D Kendall Waston (free) M Grant Ward (loan from Tottenham Hotspur)
M Aminu Abdallah (loaned to Charleston) F Federico Puppo (contract terminated) M Mauro Rosales (trade from Chivas USA) F Matt Fondy (free)
M Andre Lewis (loaned to Charleston) D Austin Berry (traded to Philadelphia) M Kianz Froese (Homegrown) M Razvan Cocis (transfer from Hozerla Uzhhorod)
F Mamadou Diouf (loaned to Charleston) M Yazid Atouba (waived) M Marco Bustos (Homegrown for 2015) M Sanna Nyassi (trade from Montreal)
F Omar Salgado (loaned to Charleston) M Chris Rolfe (traded to D.C. United) F Robert Earnshaw (free)
F Kenny Miller (contract terminated) F Giuseppe Gentile (loaned to Charlotte) M Collin Fernandez (Homegrown for 2015)
M Aminu Abdallah (waived) F Orr Barouch (contract terminated) F Florent Sinama-Pongolle (free)
D Jay DeMerit (retired) M Victor Pineda (loaned to Indy Eleven)
M Nigel Reo-Coker (trade to Chivas USA) F Giuseppe Gentile (waived)
F Juan Luis Anangonó (loaned to LDU Quito)
M Dilly Duka (traded to Montreal)
D Marco Franco (loaned to OC Blues)
D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado traded to Chivas USA)
D Marco Franco (loaned to Indy Eleven)

By my reckoning, Robinson wins this category in a walk. Pedro Morales and Kendall Waston were dynamite upon arrival and, barring a sophomore slump of epic proportions, appear to be the steals of the decade at the price of "free". Ending the Aminu Abdallah experiment and culling the Rennie-era highlights (Kobayashi, Davidson, Rusin et al) were necessary losses though I still question the remodeling of the goalkeeping corps. Cannon, sure, he was past his due date and Ousted's arrival was the final nail in the coffin; Knighton, sure, he wasn't going to get the first-team minutes he wanted so better to get a conditional SuperDraft pick for him than nothing; but Thomas? Why jettison a Canadian 'keeper who would've been great competition for Carducci in the backup role in favour of Tornaghi? Goodness knows Tornaghi can't have been happy to ride the pine all season after doing the same last season behind Sean Johnson. It's a good thing Tornaghi has a green card or else I'd be more than a little upset at using two international spots on goalkeepers. Other than that, the only real black mark is the gamble on drafting Andre Lewis - and if your worst attribute is a botched SuperDraft pick that can be easily overcome by Homegrown signings, you're doing something right.

Yallop, meanwhile, raided Seattle's backline looking for MLS-calibre defense and came up blank both times - Hurtado was flipped to Chivas USA for allocation money and Ianni appeared in only 12 games while earning three yellow cards. Elsewhere in the "not good" column, Anangonó was more "Anango-NO" than "Anango-YES" (joke credit: Nicholas Rosano), the Giuseppe Gentile gamble failed to pay out and three departures - Austin Berry, Dilly Duka and Chris Rolfe - would turn up aces for their new teams. Berry, in particular, is a question mark trade considering the 2012 Rookie of the Year showed plenty of potential and current talent on the backline; at the very least, a paltry $100k in allocation money (allegedly) is absurdly small compensation for a promising defender. Yallop does have two major signings awaiting their verdict: Cocis and Sinama-Pongolle. If they end up being team-fixing signings, Chicago's transfer balance suddenly looks pretty darn good with Palmer, Shipp and Joya looking good in their new homes.

Youth Development

Carl Robinson Frank Yallop
Current HGs 2014 HG Minutes (all competitions) Current HGs 2014 HG Minutes (all competitions)
8 3,084 2 3,318


MLS
Cup
Player GP GS Min G A YC RC GP GS Min G A YC RC
M Chris Ritter (CHI) 10 8 636 0 0 4 0 1 0 17 0 0 0 0
M Harrison Shipp (CHI) 33 26 2346 7 6 0 0 4 4 319 0 2 0 0
D Sam Adekugbe (VAN) 4 1 193 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
M Bryce Alderson (VAN) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 157 0 0 0 0
M/F Marco Bustos (VAN) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 64 0 0 0 0
GK Marco Carducci (VAN) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 210 0 0 0 0
F Caleb Clarke (VAN) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
M/F Kianz Froese (VAN) 1 0 45 0 0 0 0 1 1 90 0 0 0 0
D Ethen Sampson (VAN) 2 2 144 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
M Russell Teibert (VAN) 29 22 1971 0 2 4 0 2 2 210 0 0 0 0

For all of Robinson's public posturing regarding his faith in Vancouver's younger players, the numbers would appear to contradict him. All of the league minutes given to Vancouver's Homegrown players combined barely outnumber Harrison Shipp's minutes. Add in sub duty from Chris Ritter and it's Yallop, not Robinson, who made the most use of his young talent in 2014. Now, you could argue that Shipp had a Rookie of the Year-calibre season that may or may not replicate itself. You could make the argument that spreading the minutes out over eight players is a better long-term strategy than putting all your eggs in one or two baskets. Those are interesting debates to have, albeit outside the scope of this review. All we are concerned about here is results, not "what if" or "down the road" and in 2014, Yallop made a solid case as the better developer of his youth talent.

CONCLUSION

While Robinson may not have been the sexiest pick at the time, he was definitely the safest choice - one that even former players cheered - and ultimately the right one. Continued development of youth in 2015 will be a big part of how Robinson is graded next year, not to mention his results in all available competitions - Major League Soccer, the Canadian Championship, the Cascadia Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. Promise and good vibes will only get you so far; being consistently better than average is what Robinson needs to achieve from here on out.

~

Tomorrow, Alistair steps between the sticks and grades the goalkeeping of 2014.