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Assessing the Signings of Carl Robinson for Vancouver Whitecaps

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With the announcement of a contract extension, we examine the transactions Carl Robinson has made in his tenure as manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps and determine whether he has been successful or not.

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Today, the Vancouver Whitecaps agreed to a long-term extension with manager Carl Robinson and assistant coaches Martyn Pert and Gordon Forest. The new contract extends Robbo until 2020. Comments on this forum have been varied when it comes to whether Carl is the right manager to lead the Whitecaps, but leaning more to the negative. In fact, PLarue has promised us that "Robbo is my new Rivero for the offseason and next year", so we have that to look forward to :P. While there have been questions surrounding Robbo, it seems that the consensus is that he deserves another season. In fact, in a The Province poll, only 9% of over 1,000 participants felt that Carl Robinson should not be back next season.  However, in that same poll question, 55% felt that 2017 would be a watermark season, requiring Robbo to make the playoffs to keep his job.

While some have pointed to the failures this season as evidence that Robbo is not the man for the managerial job, one must also point to the successes last season as evidence that Robbo can do the job. You can’t say he was lucky last season but say he was not unlucky this season. You can’t have it both ways. Two data points are not enough. Now, if you want to argue that his inflexibility with tactics are a reason for your negative position, fine, but we will save that argument for another article (note to self: write article on inflexible tactics/formations). Moreover, continually changing the manager after each poor season is not an effective strategy. You need to give a coach the opportunity to correct the mistake.

I was one of those that voted in The Province poll that 2017 would be important. I believe Carl Robinson needs to bring in the right players and make the right tactical decisions for him to remain past next season. This brings me to the point of this article: a discussion of the signings Robbo has made during his tenure at the club. Initially, I was going to address each player separately, but I quickly realized that would be far too long (it will be long enough as it is). Instead, I will comment on groups of players, with a few individual comments, and let you pick out specific transactions you want to discuss further, in the comments section.

Center Back: Drafted Tim Parker and Cole Seiler; Signed  Kendall Waston, Pa Modou Kah, and David Edgar; Loaned In Diego Rodriguez

The MLS SuperDraft is a crapshoot and often results in few assets. The fact that Robbo has acquired two good CBs is a positive. While Parker’s second season could be deemed a bit of a disappointment, his first season was better than expected. At the end of the day, he might be right where he is supposed to be. Although Seiler has not featured for the Whitecaps in MLS play, he appears to be solid depth.

I think this is maybe an over-used statement, but we often hear "if they did not have holes in their game, they would not be in MLS". Nevertheless, I believe it applies to Waston. While he certainly has his faults, he also has some great attributes. I believe that the problem this season was that the team did a poor job of covering his faults and it resulted in fans turning on him.

I highlighted Kah because I think he was a good signing. Everything a player brings is not necessarily seen on the field. While I was nervous any time Kah started for the Whitecaps, he brought a loud, vocal, and respected voice on and off the field. I think he will be quite beneficial for WFC 2.

Full Backs: Signed Marcel de Jong and Brett Levis; Loaned In Jordan Smith and Fraser Aird; Loaned Out Sam Adekugbe; Resigned Jordan Harvey (at a reasonable salary); Traded Away Steven Beitashour

While not overly important, it was nice to see a few Canadian signings (or loans) this season with Edgar, de Jong, Levis, and Aird. I am not one that believes that they need to start every game, but it just feels better, for some reason, to know that Canadian kids are filling some roster positions. The right back situation has been a point of contention all season. Many were upset at the trading away of Beitashour, with Smith being the only other option. While I understand the sentiment, I am not sure it would have made a big difference. Yes, Beitashour is more defensively sound, and is a leader, but I still feel that the cap space could be used more efficiently elsewhere. The problem was, the Caps had no suitable replacement. Then again, the resigning of Harvey last season seemed to be a great decision as he ended up being the MVP this season. So maybe resigning Beitashour to the contract he wanted would not have been a bad idea. At the end of the day, I feel that Aird could have been a suitable replacement as he seemed to be learning and getting more comfortable with the position, after a rocky start, but Carl stopped playing him for some reason and elected to go with the always scary Smith.

Defensive Midfielders: Loaned In (and Purchased) Deybi Flores; Resigned Matías Laba (as a DP); Acquired Andrew Jacobson; Traded Away  Gershon Koffie

Some disagree with Laba being a DP. While I understand that viewpoint, due to the position he plays, I must disagree. Despite getting off to a slow start, Laba ended the season, once again, as one of the best tacklers in MLS. While opponents to Laba as a DP will point to the play of Jacobson as evidence of Laba’s salary being too high, he does not afford the Whitecaps the same luxury as Laba. I believe that Laba allows the team to play with one defensive midfielder, while Jacobson would not.

In addition to trading away Beitashour, I have heard people note Koffie as a big loss. Once again, I disagree. I feel that Koffie was good, but stagnated. Jacobson provided as much or more than Koffie, for much less salary, as he was more consistent. Koffie had greater highs, maybe, but also had greater lows. The most puzzling of moves though at defensive midfield was the purchase of Flores. Now granted, he was super cheap, but he did take up an international slot. It seems that mistake has been solved though with the ‘loaning out’ of Flores back to Honduras.

Midfielders: Signed Pedro MoralesNicolás Mezquida, Christian Bolanos, and Alphonso Davies; Loaned In (and Purchased) Cristian Techera, Traded Away Mauro Rosales

Despite some missteps I believe that Robbo has done well with the midfield. While I have been negative about Morales in the past, I do see some of his benefits. I think that he just did not have a proper place on this team and that he should not have been captain. Mezquida, at $60,000 seems like a great signing, even if I feel he is not played enough, while Davies was a no-brainer. I am not sure why Bolanos gets so much hate as I feel he was one of the best players this season. Finally, despite Techera having a poor season this year, I still think he was a good signing. He may struggle at times in MLS play, but I think he provides the depth the Whitecaps need going forward. He can play in the Canadian and CONCACAF championships and provide cover for international duty and injuries in MLS play.

Forwards: Signed Octavio Rivero, Masato Kudo, Robert Earnshaw, and Blas Perez; Acquired Giles Barnes; Traded Away Darren Mattocks

One place where Robbo has seemed to struggle is with identifying/utilizing forwards. I will leave the Rivero signing alone, as I feel that has been discussed ad nauseam, and focus on the other players.  In his forward acquisitions, it appears Robbo has attempted to go with veteran, proven, goal scorers. I do not disagree with that mentality, it just seems Carl has not used them correctly. I was excited to see what Kudo could do, but in Carl’s preferred one-striker formation, Kudo is not strong enough to handle the two CBs. Although at the end of their careers, I felt that Earnshaw and Perez still had more to give. This is two years in a row that Carl has used a big chunk of his salary cap to sign an aging striker that sits on the bench all season. Either play them or don’t sign them. It is too much salary to have sitting around. There is discussion of Barnes coming back, and I hope that does not occur. Despite his brace in the final match of the season, I do not feel he is a good fit and would be a waste of a position. While the team needs to fix other areas, this is the key one in my eyes that needs to be corrected externally and with money.

Overall Assessment

When Carl Robinson was announced as the manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps, he stated that he had not planned on becoming a manager this quickly as he felt he still had things to learn in an assistant position. I think one of those areas was improving his offensive prowess. Robbo has seemed to have better success with identifying strong defensive players than strong offensive players. At the same time, he has shown an ability to create depth. The top-end of the Whitecaps is not very good right now, but the middle is. This is partly evidenced by the CONCACAF success and the ThunderCaps success. I am not making excuses for Robbo, but finding strong offensive players that fit into a salary cap (and/or budget) is probably a very hard exercise. I believe that if Robbo had served as an assistant coach for longer he might have gained acuity for discovering offensive playmakers. There are managers that seem to have that skill while there are others that never do. In both cases, I think it takes some time to determine which category a manager belongs. Hopefully Robbo can end up in the former and not the latter. This offseason will be important in that determination.