VANCOUVER, B.C. – In a season where the Vancouver Whitecaps unveiled their new "Unity" road jersey, the quotes from the club's final media availability of the season Tuesday end of season media day on Tuesday suggested a locker room that was full of division during the 2018 campaign.
During a year in which the Whitecaps sacked long-time head coach Carl Robinson and narrowly missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, frustrations were clearly bubbling beneath the surface, and on Tuesday their nature became clearer. It's an dynamic that club president Bob Lenarduzzi not only admitted was an issue, but said would be a key area of focus going into the offseason.
"We have a culture problem," Lenarduzzi stated. "There's no doubt about it. When I say we have a culture problem, it is within the soccer group… We have a lot of things that are right, but what we need to fix right now is the team side, and clearly it needs fixing."
Various players elaborated further on the different dynamics at play in the 'Caps locker room, painting a picture of a group that was not always focused on the same thing in 2018.
"There was moving pieces, there were guys wanting to go in different directions," Canadian midfielder Russell Teibert revealed. "That can't happen in the 2019 season. We all need to be pulling in the same direction because if you have guys pulling in the opposite direction, that creates friction, that creates tension, and that doesn't make for a great locker room.
"We do have a positive locker room here at the Whitecaps, but there's a difference between having a positive locker room and having a great locker room. I wouldn't say this season we had a great locker room. There was a divide in the locker room and that needs to be worked on and that needs to be addressed. That can't happen going into next season."
Goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic noted that the cultural divide between players of different backgrounds that, to some extent, is inevitable in all dressing rooms in MLS, was more pronounced in Vancouver.
"In the teams that I've been with before, I've never seen a team that had such a lot of cliques," Marinovic said. "From what I understand from talking to players here and around the league, that is synonymous with MLS that you're going to have certain cliques.
"You're going to have the North American clique or you're going to have a Latino clique. That definitely was apparent here and I think there's a lot of clubs in MLS that are like that. Here it became difficult because we weren't doing too well. It became more apparent when certain people got away with things that they shouldn't, in the eyes of the rest of the team. It doesn't really build a strong team culture."
Vancouver ended up missing the postseason by two points, and Teibert had previously criticized some of his teammates for "giving up" as the season wound down. Marinovic suggested, at the very least, some didn't rise to the occasion.
"I think it was pretty apparent this year that when the going got tough, players didn't come together as we should have," Marinovic said. "Your true nature comes to the forefront I think, and that's what happened so some players here."
For Canadian international Doneil Henry, what was missing was belief in the collective.
"At a certain point, it kind of felt like guys were there for themselves," Henry said. "When you play for a team, you have to have something that drives you to want to win, instead of your personal desires. Personal success comes from what's done within the team and they kind of both go hand in hand. The biggest thing that happened was when we lost our coach that late in the season, that desire shifted in some people definitely happened."
Players like club captain and Costa Rican international Kendall Waston and Mexican World Cup vet Efrain Juarez said they didn't feel there was any dressing room divide, but their opinion didn't seem to reflect the majority sentiment.
"I heard this, but, no, no," Waston said when asked about a potential locker room divide. "It's difficult that 20 plus players can be best friends. Obviously you're going to have a better connection with two or three individuals. … But as soon as you step on the pitch, 11, 18 players, however many there are, everybody has to fight for the same reason. It's to win.
"You and me can be good friends on the pitch, but outside the pitch, I can speak to you, good morning, good night, and that's it. That doesn't mean that I hate you or whatever. So if someone is saying that only two or three guys play for the Whitecaps [jersey], it's not right. Or maybe he was playing on that he was the only one that played."
Waston, who on Tuesday also reiterated his desire to depart the Whitecaps, was joined in his views on playing for the jersey by Juarez, an arrival to the team ahead of the 2018 season. Juarez additionally took a dim view of some of his teammates' airing of grievances in front of the press on Tuesday.
"When you need to talk, you need to talk on the field, not talk in the press," said Juarez. "For me, it's a coward for someone to talk in the press after you go on the field and don't do anything or go to the locker room and don't do anything."
He later added: "If you really feel the logo or the club like you say, do it on the field. For me here, everybody was bad, because at the end, nobody can save it. No one, because we didn't make the goal. The goal was the playoffs. It's hard for me to understand that someone comes to the press and says just one or two people, three people, do their job because at the end, no one did their job because the job was to make the goal and the goal wasn't made and we're not in the playoffs."