VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Whitecaps' first season in MLS started with a bang with a 4-2 win over Toronto FC. But the harsh realities of the league soon set in.
By season’s end, the club found itself in last place and wondering what went wrong.
The 'Caps relied heavily on foreign players and youngsters, and the lack of MLS experience in the squad was exacerbated by long-term injuries to Atiba Harris and John Thorrington, two league veterans who could have made a difference.
But while the team struggled on the field, the defining story of the season was the fantastic crowd support that saw the 'Caps claim third place in league attendance – setting the stage for many exciting years to come at the newly renovated BC Place.
MLSsoccer.com spoke with director of soccer operations Tom Soehn, who served as interim head coach for the final two-thirds of the season, to get his take on how this season went and where this club is going.
MLSsoccer.com: The first season for the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS was obviously a challenging one, but what positives can you take away from the year?
Soehn: For everybody, it was a learning experience, and we feel like we've built a good core of guys that we can build off of, and hopefully grow it in the next year and build from our experience.
MLSsoccer.com: In terms of that MLS learning experience, what could you have done differently this season? What do you plan to do differently for next season as a club?
Soehn: We're all disappointed in the results, but I felt like the performances got better as the season went on. The experience of our internationals that we brought in got better and they understand now what the league's about and the pace of the league and the physicality of the league. Now we look to add certain pieces, whether that be leaders or just getting the last pieces to complement the group we have.
MLSsoccer.com: Losing Jay DeMerit, Thorrington and Harris for large chunks of the year isn’t something that you can really plan for. How difficult was that?
Soehn: For an expansion franchise, it's obviously very difficult because your roster isn't as deep as you want it to be. With the Expansion Draft having two clubs picking from the guys, you're obviously diluted a bit. Your depth is going to be a little less, so you really count on a few guys. Whatever the case, we didn't have them, so you move on without them and I think a lot of our young guys got a wealth of experience now, playing in times where they might not, so they have great experience from the year.
MLSsoccer.com: For you personally, how hard was it coming down from the director's box to take over the team about a third into the season? A lot of coaches have preseason to really get their philosophy across, but you had to do that as the season went along.
Soehn: I have to be honest – I didn't think it would be as difficult as it was to change on the fly, but it was. I've always had preseasons to go through and you can really develop an identity of how you want to play and what you want to be about. Not having that preseason and doing it when you're playing every three days was difficult, but I feel we made progress in the way we played and the idea of how we want to play. Hopefully that carries into next year and, like I said, if we complement what we have with the right pieces, we'll get out of the gates running.
MLSsoccer.com: What are the plans for the club over the offseason? Are there specific areas you’re looking to strengthen?
Soehn: You know how it is with teams, there's got to be good chemistry – your role players, your leaders, the guys who have bite, the guys who are technically sound. Now we have a pretty good understanding of what's missing and what we can complement with. Some of that's through the middle of the park – we've already got a ton of names that we're going to decipher through and make sure we find the couple of pieces that change the whole dynamic of the team.
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.