The Vancouver Whitecaps are on the hunt for a new manager. But that manager is, to put it mildly, going to be dropped into a very difficult situation. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest challenges a new manager will have to overcome, in no particular order:
- They basically need to sign a whole new team
The Whitecaps have ten players under contract next year. Three of them (Colyn, Baldisimo and Bair) have never made an MLS appearance. Two of them (Juarez and Blondell) haven’t shown they are good enough for MLS and Kendall Waston seems to be looking for the exit. This leaves the new manager with Felipe, Teibert, Nerwinski, and De Jong. These are all fine players but they are more supporting cast players than who you’d build a team around. Now the team has options on a lot of players but many of them were brought in by Carl Robinson and may not wish to return (indeed the new manager may not want them to return either). So the new manager will have to bring in a lot of players and get them to gel as a team in a very short period of time.
2. Some of the players under contract are really bad:
Two of the players that stand out from the list of players under contract for all the wrong reasons are Efrain Juarez and Anthony Blondell. These are players who take up a lot of cap space and haven’t shown they can offer much of anything. So what do you do with them? Do you try and transfer them? Their value isn’t likely to be high. Considering the Whitecaps paid seven figures for Blondell it would be a bad look to piss away all that money. You could try and trade them within MLS but who would take them? You can buy out one but you are only allowed one buyout per year so you’d still be stuck with one of them. Another option would be to try and rehabilitate them. I’ve suggested giving Blondell the chance to be the first choice striker and investing heavily in a midfield that will create enough chances that he can’t help but score some goals and get his value up. Another option would be to try him on the wing, where he’s played before, as a wide target man. This would allow Blondell to bully smaller fullbacks off the ball and to sneak in at the back post to finish off some chances. At the very least the aimless crosses Marcel de Jong always hits to the back post would have a better chance of actually connecting with something. It’s harder to see how Juarez could be rehabilitated. Perhaps he could be used as a sort of inverted fullback to help keep possession? Juarez has played as a right back for most of his career and the only stat he’s anyway respectable in is passing accuracy so this might work. Of course the best option would have been to not sign either of them in the first place but the past can’t be changed and the new manager will have to figure it out.
3. Can you actually play good football on a budget?
I’m inclined to think the answer is yes but but Carl Robinson seemed utterly convinced the answer was no. As much as I was critical of him he is actually a football manager and probably knows more about it than I. The team that’s frequently held up as a good example for the Whitecaps to emulate is the New York Red Bulls, but they have the lowest passing percentage in the entire league. They’re not exactly playing tikka takka. On the other hand though Sporting Kansas City has the highest passing percentage in the league and the second highest possession with only 1 million more in salary than the Whitecaps so there is also a positive example. Either way we’re about to see if Robbo truly was restricted by the front office or if it was all a smokescreen.
4. Supporter Enthusiasm:
If you take a glance at Whitecaps twitter you will see that people are growing frustrated with the team. If you look at any of the comments on Facebook it gets even more vitriolic. When Bob Lenarduzzi went on Sekeres and Price the phone in section was almost 100% people practically begging for more investment in the team. The two names we’ve heard as possible hires are Marc Dos Santos and Heimer Halgrimmson. Dos Santos excites nerds like me but to the casual supporter, the soccer fan in the street, he’s an unknown. Halgrimmson did some impressive things with Iceland but did it with a style that wasn’t particularly fun to watch. They are both good managers but neither would be a sexy appointment. I’d be willing to bet all of my earthly possession that either appointment would be met with a chorus of accusations that the Whitecaps are going with a budget option yet again. Even if the new manager isn’t either of these two it will probably be someone of a similar pedigree. Thus if they want to win over a disgruntled fan base they are going to have to do something, probably several things, that are unambiguously good. This could be a big signing, or an exciting style but it’s going to have to be something that gets people excited. There must be a statement of intent of some kind. Carl Robinson actually did this quite well in his first season in charge. He brought in Pedro Morales, who’s highlight real included a volleyed goal against Barcelona (the real actual Barcelona, not one of the South American imitation clubs), and opened the season with a 4-1 thrashing of the then powerhouse New York Red Bulls. Despite Robinson’s status as the man who took the job nobody else wanted, he was able to give the fans hope with a statement signing and a first game that promised big things to come. The end results were mixed but there is no denying that it felt good to be a Whitecaps fan in the aftermath of that first game. The new manager will have to create a similar feeling, but on a grander scale.