[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Whether or not the hiring of two former MLS head coaches was a contingency plan by Vancouver ownership, that’s the direction team management has taken.
Director of soccer operations Tom Soehn will take over as head coach from Teitur Thordarson, whom the club dismissed Monday along with goalkeeping coach Mike Salmon. Soehn, formerly head coach of D.C. United, will be assisted by ex-Fire head coach Denis Hamlett, who was retained along with fellow assistant coach Colin Miller.
“Tommy brings extensive experience in Major League Soccer, and in the past year, has immersed himself in the culture of our club,” said Vancouver president Bob Lenarduzzi in a statement. “Supported by Denis Hamlett and Colin Miller, we have an excellent balance of Whitecaps and MLS knowledge and expertise.
The decision to fire Thordarson was made Saturday night, after a 1-1 tie with New York left the Whitecaps with a record of 1-5-6. His job was known to be in jeopardy; after winning its MLS opener, 4-2, over Canadian rival Toronto FC in March, the Whitecaps failed to win another game.
After tying the first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship finals first leg, 1-1, at home, Vancouver led Toronto FC, 1-0, in the second leg last Wednesday at BMO Field when the match – against Thordarson’s wishes -- was abandoned due to a lightning storm. The second leg will be replayed in its entirety July 2.
Thordarson, a former Icelandic international, coached the Whitecaps to the 2008 USL title after being hired in December 2007, and reached the final in 2009. Last year, in its final second-division season before joining MLS, Vancouver reached the semifinals. In retaining its head coach, Vancouver took a different course than fellow “graduates” Seattle and Portland, which hired head coaches with MLS experience with varying degrees of success.
In three seasons at the helm of D.C. United, Soehn posted a 36-30-24 regular-season record. D.C. won the Supporters’ Shield in 2007 but lost in the first round of the playoffs, ironically to the Fire, which at the time employed Hamlett as assistant coach. After United failed to reach the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, despite winning the U.S. Open Cup in ’08 Soehn’s tenure was put on hold as the club pondered renewing his contract. He withdrew his name from consideration, and signed with Vancouver in January of last year.
The Whitecaps took the 17-year-old American striker, Omar Salgado, with the No. 1 SuperDraft pick, and used its allocation slot to sign U.S. defender Jay DeMerit. Salgado needed a FIFA exemption to play professionally in a foreign country before his 18th birthday, and DeMerit is one of several veterans -- Shea Salinas and Joe Cannon among them -- who have been sidelined with injuries.
“We have been without many of our best players for a long period of time and I thought people in the system would understand that but they haven't,” Thordarson told the Vancouver Sun. “This game isn't fair, this game is never fair. That is just how it is. These things happen all the time but I just thought this time we would getting a little more time, thinking of all the injuries, suspensions and national team duties.”
The players were summoned to the team’s offices on Monday, their day off, to learn of the shakeup. Soehn will run a training session Tuesday prior to the team’s departure for Southern California and a league match against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center on Wednesday.
“When you have a squad of 30 guys, not everyone is going to be happy and everyone is going to have their own opinions,” said DeMerit, the team captain, to the Sun. “But did he lose the dressing room? Absolutely not ... This is a business that can be hard sometimes and these types of things can happen. We have to make sure this isn't a distraction.”