VANCOUVER — Carl Robinson demonstrated with some of his late-season manoeuvres that emotion doesn’t play into his decisions with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The head coach made it clear once again Tuesday at his media availability following the club’s playoff defeat to the Seattle Sounders.
“Lots,” Robinson said when asked how much change he expects to his roster over the winter. “The league is becoming better and better.
“The standard of player is getting better, so we have to evolve.”
Picked by many to finish at or near the bottom of the standings after a miserable 2016 campaign, the Whitecaps made it to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League and sat atop Major League Soccer’s Western Conference in the final few weeks of the season.
Vancouver wound up third thanks to a late stumble, but picked up its first-ever post-season victory in the knockout round before losing out in the conference semis.
“When everyone writes you off … you use that as motivation,” said Robinson, whose Whitecaps made a 13-point jump in the table. “Then you get there and you’re always a little bit disappointed when your season ends.
“You always want more.”
The Welshman pointed to a number of players entering their prime as keys to the club’s success moving forward, including midfielders Yordy Reyna, Cristian Techera and Aly Ghazal, defenders Kendall Waston, Tim Parker and Jake Nerwinski, as well as goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic.
“We will continue to build our young group,” said Robinson, who also referenced teenage sensation Alphonso Davies. “We will continue to get better players in than we have, and unfortunately that means there’s turnover.”
One player definitely on the way out is veteran ‘keeper David Ousted, who confirmed Monday he won’t be back.
The 32-year-old Dane said he was told in June by the club it wouldn’t be picking up the option on his contract after Ousted declined to take a pay cut.
His fate was further sealed when the 26-year-old Marinovic signed with Vancouver in July and eventually overtook Ousted in the pecking order.
“I’m disappointed, especially with the last couple of months,” said Ousted, who joined the club in 2013. “It’s the business part of this game.”
A member of the Whitecaps since its 2011 expansion campaign, the status of defender Jordan Harvey is also up in the air with his contract set to run out.
The 33-year-old started 28 games in MLS, but like Ousted found himself on the bench by the end of the season.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Harvey. “I’m really proud to have been a staple and help this city and this club grow.”
Brought in on loan this season, star striker Fredy Montero said it’s likely he will be go back to his club in China as of right now, but remained open to a return to Vancouver if a permanent deal can be worked out.
“We had ups and downs, but I enjoyed my days,” said Montero, who scored 14 times for Vancouver. “I showed the consistency that’s always been attached with my name.”
The question of money and how much the Whitecaps are willing to spend on players is an almost constant talking point among supporters. Vancouver’s payroll is in the top-10, but remains behind the league’s big boys.
Montero was the highest-paid player in club history at US$1.8 million, but with no guarantee he’ll be back, questions remain what level ownership is willing to invest after falling in the conference semifinals for the second time in three years.
“If you talk to any person in any job, they always want more money,” said Robinson. “Better players obviously cost more money, but we’ve got a really talented group here.
“We’ve found some really good hidden gems.”
The Whitecaps relied heavily on goals off set pieces and counter attacks this season, often soaking up pressure and allowing opponents to possess the ball for long stretches.
The formula worked a lot of the time, but Robinson came under heavy criticism in the playoff series with Seattle when he deployed a conservative lineup in a scoreless first leg at home.
Techera and Reyna were both hurt for that one, and would start the second leg, but Vancouver registered just one shot on target in over 180 combined minutes in bowing out to the rival Sounders.
“As a coach of any sports team you’re open to criticism,” said Robinson. “I’m not here to make any excuses. In the last two games against Seattle we didn’t perform very well.”
While there will be a number of changes on the field, Robinson’s job is safe off it, with Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi laughing off a question about the head coach’s future.
“Why wouldn’t he be back?” said an incredulous Lenarduzzi. “There’s no doubt about Carl Robinson. He will be back, and there’s never been any thought that he wouldn’t be.”