The Vancouver Whitecaps say they are not giving up on this season despite firing their head coach with five games to go.
Team president Bob Lenarduzzi said Tuesday that the decision to dismiss head coach Carl Robinson and his assistants now instead of at season’s end gives the Major League Soccer club time prepare for next year.
“What we want to try to do is ensure that we give ourselves the best chance possible for a playoff spot, and then beyond that, we want to get a head start on next year,” Lenarduzzi said. “The fact we can do that now and start to look at what we are looking for in that head coach, I think is beneficial in the long haul.”
The Whitecaps, who are eighth in the MLS Western Conference with 40 points from an 11-11-7 record, sit four points behind the Seattle Sounders who hold the sixth and final playoff spot.
Vancouver plays the seventh-place L.A. Galaxy in a crucial away match Saturday.
Craig Dalrymple, technical director for the Whitecaps FC Academy, will serve as acting coach for the rest of the season.
“I’m excited about the opportunity the club has given me and thankful that they trust me,” he said.
Robinson, a former Welsh international, had an MLS record of 64-59-42 and guided the Whitecaps to three playoff appearances, including two Western Conference semifinals. Vancouver also won the 2015 Canadian Championship and advanced to the semifinal of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League.
Also released were assistant coaches Martyn Pert and Gordon Forest as well as goalkeeper coach Stewart Kerr.
Robinson had two years remaining on his contract but there was speculation he wouldn’t be back next year. Still, his sudden firing caught players and fans by surprise.
Whitecaps captain Kendall Waston was blunt.
“I’m not happy at all,” said the big centre back. “Personally, I don’t think it was the right moment but I’m not in charge of the club.
“I don’t agree but this is my personal opinion. It hurts a lot because I don’t think it was the proper way it happened.”
Robinson’s departure could affect Waston’s future with the team.
“Mostly I came here because of the coaches, not for the club,” said the five-year veteran. “I have a contract (for) one more year. But you never know what is going to happen at the end of the season.”
Veteran striker Kei Kamara, who just joined the Whitecaps this season, blamed himself for missed scoring chances that might have helped Robinson keep his job.
“I take it personally,” he said. “I feel responsible for part of it.
“I’ve been around. I have played on different clubs. It’s part of the business.”
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney praised Robinson.
“I think he’s done a nice job there over the years in terms of putting teams together that have always been competitive,” said Vanney. “I wish him well. I’m sure we’ll see him again somewhere in the league.”
Lenarduzzi said the Whitecaps don’t have a replacement candidate in mind but Dalrymple will not be offered the job on a permanent basis.
“Now that the decision has been made, what we will look to do is establish what that criteria is we are looking for in a head coach,” he said. “It will be global search.”
Lenarduzzi also didn’t want to give a timeline for when a new coach could be in place.
“What we want is the right guy and give ourselves enough time to ensure we do the exploratory and investigative work we can do to give us the best chance to acquire the best person out there,” he said.
“We’d like to get it done as quickly as possible but not at the expensive of perhaps not getting the right candidate.”
One name already mentioned is Marc Dos Santos, an assistant coach with Los Angeles Football Club. The San Jose Earthquakes, who fired their head coach last week, have reportedly asked LAFC for permission to speak to Dos Santos.
Robinson spent the last five years as Vancouver’s head coach following two years as an assistant. He was amiable, often frank when dealing with the media, but could have a sharp tongue.
Part of Robinson’s role was finding talent for the team but this year he seemed to chafe under some of Vancouver’s budget restrictions.
Robinson played a role in the development of teenaged winger Alphonso Davies, who earlier this year agreed to a transfer deal with German soccer giant Bayern Munich for a record fee over US$22 million
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press