VANCOUVER — Problems in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ locker room this season spilled into the team’s on-field performance, say players and the club’s president.
The comments come as the team’s captain confirmed on Tuesday that he’s looking to leave the organization.
"I want to leave, I’m not going to change my mind," Kendall Waston said.
The 30-year-old defender is under contract with the Whitecaps but said his agent will work out a deal that will get him out of Vancouver.
Waston said he’s been loyal to the Whitecaps since joining the club in 2014, but moving on is the best decision for his family.
His comments come after Waston publicly disagreed with the dismissal of head coach Carl Robinson in September.
On Tuesday, the team’s captain said he understands that the move was a business decision, but he "doesn’t like two-faced people." He declined to comment on who, specifically, he was referring to.
"If I don’t trust, I better walk away," Waston said.
The Costa Rican international said he’s been looking at opportunities with other clubs but declined to name specific teams or leagues.
The market for Waston will likely be strong based in part on his recent performances in international matches, said Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi.
Waston scored for Costa Rica in this year’s World Cup, and has 14 goals and four assists in 114 regular-season games in Vancouver.
The organization isn’t willing to sell the defender at a loss, Lenarduzzi said.
"In spite of the fact that he wants to leave, he won’t be leaving for anything less than what the market value is," he said. "It’s not going to be a fire sale."
The situation with Waston tops a difficult season for the Whitecaps, who missed the playoffs after finishing eighth in MLS’s Western Conference with a 13-13-8 record.
Lenarduzzi said issues in the locker room caused problems on the field.
"We have a culture problem. There’s no doubt about it," he said.
Veteran midfielder Russell Teibert said there was a "divide" in the locker room. He did not name any players specifically.
"There has been a lack of respect for the jersey in this season," Teibert said. "And that can’t happen anymore. Going forward into 2019, you have to respect this jersey and this club."
There were "cliques" in the Whitecaps locker room, said goalie Stefan Marinovic. He added that he’s heard from other players that the issue is prevalent across MLS.
"It became difficult because we weren’t doing too well and it became more apparent," Marinovic said.
"When the going got tough, players didn’t come together as we should have."
Defender Doneil Henry said some players seemed at times to be working for themselves instead of the organization.
"I think when you play for a team, you have to have something that drives you to want to win and build instead of your own personal desires," he said. "Personal success kind of comes from what’s done within the team. They kind of go hand in hand."
The coaching upheaval near the end of the season didn’t help with the locker room issues, said Henry.
"We’re professionals. We need to go about our business professionally and I don’t think everybody did that," he said. "I think certain things kind of escalated and took from the team. We don’t want any situation that’s bigger than the team."
At least one player said he was dealing with personal issues throughout the season.
Midfielder Felipe Martins was visibly emotional as he spoke Tuesday about the difficulty his children had transitioning to life in Vancouver. The family also dealt with the deaths of loved ones and with harsh messages on social media, he said.
The Brazilian national said people may not like him but they can’t question his effort.
"Every time I stepped on the field, I tried to honour the jersey, the club the best way I could," he said.
Despite the issues the Whitecaps faced this season, Lenarduzzi said he’s excited about the club’s future, pointing in part to talented young players coming through the organization’s development system.
The team’s leading scorer, striker Kei Kamara, said he’d like to come back to Vancouver and will be waiting for his phone to ring in the off season.
"Definitely Vancouver is top of my list of places where I want to play next season," said Kamara, who registered 14 goals and six assists this year.
There are spots to be filled and the club is willing to dole out cash for some designated players, but who will be on next year’s squad will be up to the incoming coach, Lenarduzzi added.
The club has had interest in the coaching job from several people who are "well known" in the soccer world and the role should be filled in a "couple of weeks," he said.
"We may have taken a step backwards this year but we’re not far off from getting back on track," Lenarduzzi said.