VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps' season will wrap up earlier than they would have hoped for on Sunday when the Portland Timbers pay a visit to BC Place (4 pm ET; TSN1 in Canada, MLS LIVE in US).
Despite a poor season, Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi confirmed in August that no matter what the outcome of their push for the playoffs, head coach Carl Robinson – who still has at least one year left on a multi-year contact – would be back at the helm next year.
The end of the 2016 slate will be a welcome relief to many in Vancouver who just want to put a difficult year behind them. But for Robinson, it will mark the start of the hard work he needs to undertake to make the team playoff contenders in 2017.
Whether that means wholesale changes or some tinkering in key positions remains to be seen, but Robinson is already fully focused on the task in hand.
"If you look at any team that misses the playoffs, they have decisions to make," Robinson said at training this week. "We have some really talented young players here. A good core group of young players. We won't be making too many changes in regards to the core young players, because they've done very well and they'll continue with another year under their belts to be better next year.
"Key players in key areas we'll need to make big decisions on, and we will. We've got a Designated Player spot available with Octavio [Rivero] leaving and we've got some things that we'll try and shuffle."
The Whitecaps have focused their attentions on South and Central American talent under Robinson. Although he plans to cast his net wider this offseason, the Welshman will go back to that familiar well when he jets off to Brazil and Argentina next Thursday on a scouting trip.
"There's lots of things in the works," Robinson revealed. "I'll be off on my travels to a number of places. South and Central America, as well as Europe. It just depends what I can do, but I'll try and do it one step at a time. I'm sure you'll want six new players in all at once, unfortunately that won't happen. But it might be like a dripping tap. One by one by one, bit by bit by bit."
Robinson's main targets are clear: a proven goalscorer, a creative attacking midfielder and a right back. It's all very much the same as where he was a year ago, but after failing to properly plug those holes and missing the playoffs for the first time in the three years he's been in charge, the 'Caps coach is determined not to be in the same position again in a year's time.
"We don't want to be where we are, but we have to accept it and go back to the drawing board," he said. "Things haven't worked out this year for one reason or another. We've got to be open about it and honest about it. I will, the players will, and the club will, and we'll get back to where we were.
"This time last year everyone was very excited. Even now, I'm still excited because I have a very talented group of young players. I've just got to add a couple more different kind of players in different areas to be competing next year because that's where we want to be."