Chicago-native brings coaching, playing experience to new job as he begins to identify talent for promising future
By Ian Walker
The Vancouver Whitecaps did the expected Tuesday and named Tom Soehn the team's director of soccer operations. Basically, the 43-year-old Chicago native will be the Whitecaps' resident expert on all things Major League Soccer as the team prepares for its MLS debut in 2011. His biggest responsibility will be to identify talent and make the team's transition from NASLUSL Division II -- or whatever they're going to end up calling the league Vancouver is playing in this season -- as seamless as possible. Scouting players for next season's entry and expansion drafts as well as sharing the secrets of the salary cap and other league intricacies are all part of his job description.
"The rules in MLS are so different, so I think it'll be getting everyone up to speed as to how the league runs," said Soehn, at a mid-afternoon press conference to introduce him to the Vancouver media. "When you're involved in [MLS] day-to-day you have a very good understanding what it's about, but if you were to read the rules you'd get very confused. Thankfully, Vancouver has been very proactive so we have time to understand and how to do it right."
Soehn comes to Vancouver from D.C. United, where he's spent the past six seasons on the team's coaching staff, the last three as head coach. He brings a wealth of experience over a nine-year coaching career and 13-year professional playing career, which included stints in the old Canadian Soccer League. He has been involved with MLS from Day 1, winning a championship with the Dallas Burn in the league's inaugural season in 1998 as a player and again as an assistant coach with United in 2004.
"One of the things that was clear is that we had to have MLS experience on board," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who remembers coaching against his new hire when Soehn played with Ottawa and Hamilton of the now-defunct CSL. "It's definitely a different animal. There's a lot of complexity and this gives us the best chance possible for a great start [in 2011]."
Soehn first met with Whitecaps officials in November and accompanied them to Florida for the recent MLS Draft and players combine.
He plans on returning to the U.S. to sort out paper work, but will be back in town in time to enjoy the Olympics. His wife, son and three daughters will join him in the summer, once school is out. "They're a little disappointed they can't come out sooner," he said. "They gave me a checklist to make sure what soccer teams they're going to and what schools they're going to."
In somewhat related news, MLS's current collective bargaining agreement expires on Jan. 31. It's been reported the league has threatened to lock out its players if they don't agree to continue under a similar contract as the previous five years.
It's a touchy subject, as Soehn will attest.
"I'm not at liberty to talk about that. . . ." he said. "Right now it's in the league's hands, they're negotiating and we all hope that things get resolved so the game's go on. I'm still going to go about my job of making sure that when we get to the league that we're prepared and we have a roster that we feel is capable of competing at the highest level."
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