Former DC United coach eager to prep Vancouver for MLS
By John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports
Tom Soehn likes a challenge, which is good news for the Vancouver Whitecaps, because he has a doozy on his hands.
Soehn was recently unveiled as Vancouver's new director of soccer operations, a fancy name for a general manager. It's an important job, as he has been charged with the responsibility of getting the Whitecaps ready to enter Major League Soccer as an expansion franchise in 2011.
Soehn chose to go the management route after stepping down as D.C. United coach last November following three seasons at the helm of the capital club.
"Knowing that I was going into something where I felt [Vancouver] was going to be a strong organization down the line, and I would be able to be a part of that on the ground floor and build something and put my print on it — that was pretty exciting for me," Soehn said.
"That really weighed in on my decision to go into management, as opposed to trying for another coaching job."
The first order of business for Soehn, a 43-year-old native of Chicago, will be scouting and adding players to a Whitecaps team that will compete in the USSF Division 2 for a season before making the jump to MLS.
"We need to take time to evaluate the team we have, along with going out and finding guys we think can make things better this year, and players who we think can make our MLS roster the following year," Soehn said.
Balance needed to shape MLS franchise
Soehn said balance will be his guiding principle in shaping the Whitecaps into an MLS franchise.
"You need star players, but just having star players doesn't cut it," Soehn explained. "You also need workers around them, so having a strong nucleus and complementing that with some marquee players and some young guys who are willing to do the work."
Soehn's quest to unearth young talent for his roster has been made considerably easier by the presence of the Whitecaps' youth academy, which he called "second to none in North America."
"Being able to develop from within is something that few other teams can do and that's going to be a real advantage for us," Soehn said.
Soehn approached the Whitecaps last November and held talks with club president Bob Lenarduzzi about the GM position.
Soehn's vast MLS experience — he played in the league from 1996-2000 and served as an assistant coach at D.C. for four years before taking over the coaching reins — made him an ideal candidate in the eyes of Lenarduzzi, who wanted to hire someone who was familiar with the league's structure and salary cap.
"Major League Soccer is a unique league, in the fact that there are so many rules and things that you have to adjust to," said Soehn. "I think the only way to really understand it all is to have experience with it all."
Long term goal: civic pride in the team
As far as making the leap from coach to GM, Soehn believes it's not as big a leap as it would appear to be.
"As a coach in D.C. you wear several hats and that also includes scouting, management and working the salary cap," Soehn said. "That's something you do on a daily basis and it's no different than what I'll be doing in Vancouver."
Soehn's short-term goal is to build a team that is ready to play in MLS. He said his long-term outlook is putting together a side that the city of Vancouver can be proud of.
"It's up to us to build a product on the field that people will love to come out and see."