VANCOUVER, BC – Carl Robinson said he learned a “hell of a lot” in 2016.
He learned about himself.
After all, this was just Robinson’s third year as a head coach. And the previous two were extremely successful. Record-breaking, in fact, with Vancouver Whitecaps FC setting a new points record and hosting a playoff game for the first time. “If you don’t make mistakes, you never learn,” Robinson told reporters following Vancouver’s Cascadia Cup-clinching 4-1 win over Portland.
He learned about his players.
Some of them stepped up when times were tough, showing that they want – and deserve – to remain in Vancouver. Many of the team’s young players came through, helping Whitecaps FC reach the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals. Others, unfortunately, did not.
And, perhaps most importantly, Robinson learned about what this team needs to get to the next level – part of which involves finding “key players in key areas.”
With that in mind, Robinson is off to South America on Thursday to kick off an extensive offseason scouting trip – Robinson’s first order of business after signing a long-term contract with the club on Wednesday.
“I think if you look at any team that misses the playoffs, they have a decision to make,” Robinson told reporters last week. “We have some very talented young players here, a good core group of young players. We won’t be making too many changes in regards to the core, because they’ve done very well and they’ll continue with another year under their belt to be better next year. Key players in key areas, we’ll have to make big decisions.”
The young core Robinson speaks of includes wingers Kekuta Manneh, who had five goals in 13 starts before going down with a season-ending foot injury, and 15-year-old Alphonso Davies, who showed great promise throughout the season with both WFC2 and the first team.
When you add in the likes of Matias Laba and Tim Parker, who along with Manneh made Major League Soccer’s 24 under 24 list, there are clearly some fine young pieces to build around.
But Robinson knows those pieces alone aren’t necessarily enough.
“Things haven’t worked out this year for one reason or another,” Robinson told reporters. “We’ve got to be open about it and honest about it – and we will, I will, the players will, the club will – and get back to where we were. At this time last year, everyone was very excited.”
“Even now, I’m still excited because I’ve got a very talented group of young players,” Robinson added. “I’ve just got to add a couple more different types of players in different areas to be competing next year, because that’s where we want to be.”
And so begins Robinson’s offseason search.
There are already “a lot of things in the works,” he said. And things will certainly pick up in December with the MLS Expansion Draft and Re-Entry Process. The MLS transfer window doesn’t officially open until February, but teams are still able to announce signings before then. Last year, for example, Whitecaps FC made moves in December and January.
Either way, there will be changes.
“I’ll try and do it one step at a time,” Robinson said. “It won’t be 16 players at once, but it might be like a dripping tap. One, by one, by one, bit, by bit, by bit.”