Laying the foundation
In practice, the writing was on the wall for Tom Soehn since the arrival of Martin Rennie as Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach following the end of the 2011 MLS regular season.
And at this point, it’s difficult to say what his legacy will be.
While many fans associate Soehn’s tenure with the subpar on-field performances of the 2011 campaign, some of the players signed for that season went on to play a big role in the team’s run to the 2012 postseason.
Players like Gershon Koffie, Alain Rochat, Jay DeMerit and John Thorrington were all brought to the club on Soehn’s watch.
Joe Cannon and Davide Chiumiento were two players who played big parts in 2012 and were also Soehn acquisitions.
“Most importantly, you want to build good building blocks for the future,” Soehn told MLSsoccer.com by phone from his home in Minnesota. “I think we had a deep team this year, and a lot of those pieces were there from the beginning.”
Perhaps the biggest of those blocks put in place by Soehn is Koffie, a player he found while on a scouting trip in Ghana.
The 21-year-old has gone on to become one of the best young midfielders in MLS, and while few criticized the selection of Young-Pyo Lee as the club’s player of the year, had the award gone to Koffie it wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows.
“The sky’s the limit for that kid,” Soehn said. “He’s got so much upside as he continues to grow as a player. That valuable experience he gains now will keep improving him.”
That’s not to say all of his moves went to plan. Perhaps most ignominiously, Mustapha Jarju was signed as a Designated Player to help turn the tide in the middle of a lost 2011 season. The Gambian striker turned out to be a titanic bust who could do nothing to help the sinking side, and failed to find net even once in MLS play. Soehn would finish with a record of 5W-12L-5D as interim head coach after taking over from the sacked Teitur Thordarson.
“When you’re looking for players, you wish everyone turned out to be Gershon Koffie, that starts young and has a big upside,” Soehn said. “Unfortunately it’s not a perfect science, so it’s not always going to work out.”
Soehn was brought in to help navigate the club through the transition period from second-tier NASL outfit to the MLS, and that role is something he looks back on as his biggest positive contribution.
“When you come from an NASL situation, there’s always question marks as to what that first game is going to look like,” Soehn said. “You hope you fill the seats, and you hope the product is good, and I think that game was incredible, the atmosphere was incredible and that atmosphere has carried on to this day.”
When asked what’s next for the former coach and director, he isn’t sure. He just knows it will be back in the game.
“No matter what position or what level, soccer is in your blood,” Soehn said. “I don’t know for sure yet, but I’ll entertain what options there are and make the best decision for myself and my family.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.