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Coffee with the Caps, Monday November 18

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Buckle up folks

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Good Monday morning Caps fans, hopefully you all had an easier time getting up than I did today.

Caps world is, of course, still aflutter with the long awaited announcement of the team’s technical director, which I foreshadowed on Friday. That man, former Schalke and Mainz executive Axel Schuster will be forced to use his considerable experience to hit the ground running, with the club being on the record that they want to have the core of next year’s team sooner rather than later to sell season tickets boost squad cohesion.

Reaction to Schuster has been a bit of a mixed bag thus far. I think pretty much everyone is impressed that the Caps were able to bring aboard one of the key cogs in Mainz’s development from a German backwater to one of the most consistent sides in the Bundesliga. Between some excellent youth development and the recruitment of Jurgen Klopp, Schuster worked with renowed executive Christian Heidel to revitalize Mainz.

The Bundesliga, and Mainz and Schalke more specifically, is a hallmark of player development—something the Whitecaps have sorely lacked in the past. If nothing else, that kind of ethos, of doing more with less, will be important to have in the boardroom going forward. Even with the rumblings that management wants to start injecting more cash into the team, that money is useless unless spent wisely. Bringing in a sporting director of impressive pedigree and with undeniable experience is as much a statement of intent as a DP striker.

The problem, however, is that Schuster’s experience has not really come as a sporting director, according to Bundesliga expert Manuel Veth’s well done story on the hire. While in Germany, Schuster was clearly in a subordinate role to Heidel and was less involved in player acquisitions—something that is going to be job number one in Vancouver.

Schuster’s role for Mainz and Schalke is still a bit ambiguous to me but it is clear that he was more in charge of general sporting organization than the intimate transfer dealings of the club.

On the other hand, he didn’t learn any bad habits in Europe that could complicate his integration into MLS. Because that brings us to the other major sticking point with the Caps’ hire: a lack of MLS experience. Given the Byzantine system that MLS operates under, the hiring is a bit risky—great executives from Europe, just like great players in Europe, do not always translate well to the unique structure and makeup of the league.

This is especially puzzling in light of repeated proclamations from Marc dos Santos that the team’s biggest recruitment errors came from not bringing in players who would be able to succeed in the league. Hiring an executive with a European background is undeniably impressive but it doesn’t really help solve that problem unless Schuster is ready to do a lot of homework in a short period of time.

Now, I don’t want to dismiss the hiring. Schuster, again, is undeniably experienced. He is a better choice than the people who were initially rumored to be in for the job and he appears to have full support from both the organization and MDS. I think he injects some qualities the Caps have been sorely lacking: an attention to player and youth development, experience at the highest levels in Europe and, despite the fact that he was never the head honcho, still clearly knows his way around a football club.

But the experiences he brings to the table don’t quite seem to square with all of the Caps’ most pressing needs. That’s fine—it would be hard to find a candidate who brings the pedigree of Schuster but who also has MLS experience. There were inevitably going to be some risks involved in the move. But the Caps need to be careful that this hire wasn’t just an attempt to hire someone with fancy European credentials to make themselves seem like a more important organization than they actually are.

“That credibility gap that we had for some time, he fills that without a doubt,” Jeff Mallett said Friday. This quote, in some ways, sums up the hire for me. Schuster deserves our full support but the club needs to be thinking about improvement in other ways beyond just the filling the “credibility gap” that exists currently due to the club’s past two-faced and lazy actions.

Onto the links...

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