With a lull in the pre-season action, as the Vancouver Whitecaps transition from Tucson, Arizona to Portland, Oregon, I felt it was a good time to discuss Carl Robinson. Carl Robinson is beginning his third season as the manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps. During that time, he has made extensive changes and many would argue that they are for the better. There is stability in the team core, a desire to surround the young talent with appropriate veteran mentors, a continually noted amazing locker room, and continued improvement in the field product. While the current Whitecaps culture may not be entirely attributed to Robinson I believe that he deserves a big chunk of the credit. And yet, Robinson is still a young coach in his first head managerial position. As such he has made his mistakes. However, what I have liked about Robinson is he appears to be willing to admit to, and learn from, his mistakes. Last season was an important transition year for the Whitecaps. The ThunderCaps were born, the team was mainly comprised of ‘Robbo’s guys’, and Caps played in their first Champions League. Thanks to winning their first Voyageurs Cup, the Whitecaps are in the Champions League again this year. While many fans were okay with the Caps not advancing last season, I believe there are higher expectations on this year’s team to advance to the quarterfinals. In addition, there are expectations that the Whitecaps will also contend (and win) the Voyageurs Cup and Supporters Shied (or MLS Cup).
Are the fan expectations of even more success this season acceptable? Sure the Whitecaps cannot win everything and players will become injured and need rest, but inherent in the culture that Robbo has helped create is the expectation from fans that the team will be competitive in every match and in every competition. Interestingly, I do not believe that Carl Robinson would have it any other way. In an interview after his resigning, David Ousted acknowledged that his goal is still to return to Europe in the future and play at a higher level. Robbo’s response? He was very happy as he did not want players that were ‘happy’ not pushing themselves to greater heights. As such, I think that Robbo expects fans to have expectations for this club and be frustrated if the club does not live up to those expectations (at least the realistic ones).
The motivation for this piece was an interview that I listened to with Robinson on the Whitecaps website. I really encourage you all to watch it and see if you pick up on the things that drove me to write this article.
The key aspect of that interview was his honesty. One of the frustrating traits of former manager Rennie was that it appeared he either a) was in denial of the problems that existed or b) believed everyone was stupid. Like Ousted’s interviews, when I listen to Robinson talk I like him. I believe him. I trust what he says. I may not agree with it, but I do not feel that Robinson has ever explicitly lied in an interview. Moreover, I have always felt that he has taken appropriate blame when he has messed up. In fact, near the end of the above video he talks about setting objectives for the season and sort of chuckles at the objective last season to score 60 goals posed by the reporter. You can tell by his reaction that he knows that was a mistake to claim last year and his response this year was along the lines of ‘hopefully we will get closer to that target this year’. Thus, he recognized the mistake and did not say that by bring in additional firepower the team will achieve that 60-goal milestone. Smart move Robbo, smart move.
With all the positives that I write above, and I wanted to make sure I started that way, I do not want this to be entirely a love-fest for Carl Robinson. I believe one of the key aspects of 86forever is that we are critical of the team. Therefore I want to take a moment to be critical of Robinson. In that interview I cited he does hint at the Whitecaps trying different formations in Portland, which is good to see. However, there were times that one could argue that he was stubborn in playing a 4-2-3-1 and/or playing Rivero into the ground when he was not scoring. Do we see the same ‘errors’ this year? Do we see players that clearly belong with the ThunderCaps getting minutes with the Whitecaps? I also feel that he will have to be more careful about how much he uses the phrase ‘I am still learning’ or something similar. Yes, that is legitimate and yes, he is still learning. We are always learning, but I believe that he will have to step away from that at some point. You do not want a coach in his 5th year still saying to the media ‘well, I am new to this and am learning’. At some point you say to the coach ‘yes, you are still learning, but those should be the small things but the big things anymore’. Are we at that point yet with Robinson? Do we expect him to have the ‘big things’ all figured out?
Robinson has not made too many missteps with the acquisitions thus far. However, some key transfers still have some question marks. This is a big year for Pedro Morales and Octavio Rivero. Masato Kudo and Christian Bolanos, and Cristian Techera to some extent, will be judged heavily this season and their ability to integrate or not integrate will be placed at the feet of Robinson. Robinson’s decisions with young players will also be analyzed heavily. Many questioned Robbo bringing back Deybi Flores. However, maybe we should trust Robbo as Flores has looked very good thus far. There were questions about Fraser Aird, yet he looked good in his debut in Tucson. It is certainly a balancing act for managers as they need to acknowledge fans ‘feelings’ but also not be swayed by them. We are not experts. We are not getting paid the big bucks to manage. We have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. We do not get fired if everything blows up. That is all on Robbo and thus he needs to do what he feels is best. If he continues to prove people wrong and he continues to find the gems that fans and media believe are coal, he will continue to be beloved and fans will continue to trust his judgement even if they disagree. When I ran a business I always said I do not care if they like me, I care that they respect me. We may not always agree with Robbo’s decisions, but I think he has the respect of the majority to follow 'his plan'. This will be an important year to see how that plan is coming along. It is one thing to bring a team from mediocrity to competitive. It is another to bring a competitive squad to elite. Will this be an important year in whether Robinson's squad can take that next step?
I now turn this over to you and pose the important question of what are your expectations of Robbo this season? We talk about the players and we talk about the team, but what do you want to see out of Carl Robinson this year? This question is not pointed at ‘I want to see the Whitecaps win the Shield’ as I feel that is a team expectation. This question is more about our expectations of Robinson’s growth as a manager.