Sports Soccer

New Whitecaps coach focuses on youth, attacking play

By Hosea Cheung, 24 hours Vancouver

The Vancouver Whitecaps will play their first MLS playoff match Thursday against the Los Angeles Galaxy. (Reuters file photo)

The Vancouver Whitecaps will play their first MLS playoff match Thursday against the Los Angeles Galaxy. (Reuters file photo)

The wait was a curious, yet understandable one, for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

It took about seven weeks since firing Martin Rennie, but the club finally found his replacement.

The Whitecaps announced Monday Carl Robinson as their new head coach — their fourth hiring in as many years since joining Major League Soccer.

But the hiring doesn't come without questions, the main one being why it took this long simply to promote the team's now-former assistant coach.

With rumoured top candidate Frank Yallop opting to coach the Chicago Fire and Jason Kreis taking the New York City FC job, Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said it came down to waiting on another highly coveted coaching option. That was Bob Bradley, the former bench boss of the U.S. and Egyptian national soccer teams.

"When we started the coach search, we interviewed a select group," said Lenarduzzi, who added there were hundreds of applicants. Once Bradley expressed interest, however, it became a waiting game.

"As far as the coach search taking longer than we would have anticipated, if Bob Bradley doesn't come up, it more than likely would have been done sooner. But for us not to pursue that would have been wrong on our part."

However, Robinson, who was signed to a multi-year deal, wasn't deterred by not being the team's first choice.

"I was actually privileged to be in contention with people like Bob Bradley," he said. "I take that as a positive that the club sees me in that esteem. Thankfully, I'm the one that sat here today in charge of making all the decisions."

The 37-year-old Welshman has been with the Whitecaps since Rennie's arrival two years ago.

When it comes to playing experience, it's not something he lacks — with more than 400 pro games under his belt, in addition to 52 international caps.

He began his career in 1995 with the Wolverhampton Wanderers, appearing in 165 games with the English club. He also spent time with Portsmouth, Sunderland and Norwich City before heading overseas to MLS.

His North American debut came in 2007 with Toronto FC — earning team MVP for his first two seasons there. He was traded to the New York Red Bulls in 2010 and spent 2011 as a player/coach with the club. In January 2012, he retired as a player to take on the role with the Whitecaps.

And while the former Wales international knows his inexperience as a manager will draw criticism, and even doubt among a fan base expecting maybe a more experienced hire, he's ready to prove them wrong.

"I know there's a lot of hard work up ahead but I'm prepared," Robinson said. "I'm ready to meet that challenge.

"I'm a players’ coach, and my style of play … I like to move the ball, that will be shown on my team. It's going to be an attacking brand of football."

The club Robinson will take over is one he's clearly familiar with, and he believes that will make the transition easier.

"It's very important," he said. "The continuity of the players is that they know me and I know them. Certain things will change, but certain things won't change. The familiarity does help."

As far as he's concerned, midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker and striker Kenny Miller will be back with the team, and he wants captain Jay DeMerit signed to a new contract as well. But the focus will be on the younger players, as Robinson — known to be very honest with his players — is geared for the present and future.

"My job is to unlock the potential of those youngsters," he said. "But there are areas we need to strengthen now.

"What I'm looking forward now is this season … this is the most important year, and everything after that will take care of itself."


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