VANCOUVER, BC – Just under a year ago, Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced the appointment of Carl Robinson as the club’s new head coach.
At the time, president Bob Lenarduzzi said Robinson ticked off all the boxes – even though he didn’t have previous head coaching experience.
He had MLS experience both as a player and a coach.
He had the players’ backing.
And he had a vision – a vision which became a reality this season.
Under Robinson, the ‘Caps set a new record for points, qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs, successfully defended their Cascadia Cup title, and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time in club history.
We recently sat down with the man they call “Robbo” to reflect on his first year in charge and look forward to the future. Part 2 of this exclusive interview will be released on Sunday.
When you were hired as head coach of Whitecaps FC last December, you said it was a “dream come true.” Has it been everything you expected?
It has, and it’s been a lot more as well. It’s been an incredible 12 months of learning for me – what to do, what not to do, what was good, and what was bad. I think the main thing is that I’ve remained true to my beliefs with the ways I want to play, the ways I treat people, and the ways I’m honest and open with everyone. That hasn’t changed.
You came into the job under pretty difficult circumstances. What was that like?
Tough. It was very tough. Losing Camilo was very tough, and trying to replace him, but not only replace him. There were other areas that I wanted to strengthen so that I could play a certain way. I needed to bring in a number 10 and more of a defensive-type player in midfield. There were a number of areas I needed to address in a very short space of time.
Now, a year down the line, and obviously with pieces in place, we’re just looking to add a bit more quality to certain areas. I will have a bit more time and my targets will be identified a little bit better.
Coming into the season, if someone would have told you that the team would have hit 50 points, made the playoffs, won the Cascadia Cup and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League, would you have believed them? Were those realistic goals?
They were, but people probably would have told me that I was mad. Everyone has their own beliefs about what they think a successful season is or what they think a good year is. I just planned out what I thought and what I wanted my team to do and become.
I wanted to create a culture within this football club, which I think every club needs. I wanted an enjoyable environment, I wanted a learning environment, and I wanted a testing environment. I think we’ve managed to do throughout the season and we’ve managed to pick up some results along the way. We could have been better at certain times, but we’ve produced some fantastic individual performances.
The challenge for next year is to be a little bit more consistent. If we want to get a home playoff game, which is our goal, as well as not shying away from the beliefs of giving young players chances and bringing Canadians through the Residency program as well, then it’s going to take a little bit of time.
You mentioned establishing a culture here. There’s been a lot of talk about the spirit within the locker room this year. Was that a main focus of yours?
It was. It’s a major thing in football these days that you get the training environment right. That’s a credit to the group of boys in there, because they get on very well off the field, as well as on the field.
Confidence is a big thing, winning games is a big thing, but whether we won or lost I’ve maintained that they stay respectful to each other and they treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves. That’s happened … it just happens that they get on brilliantly. The away trips that we’ve gone on have been fantastic because they get on so well and they tease each other, they wind each other up, and they challenge each other.
We’ve got 18 points on the road. I think that’s one of the most pleasing things for me this year. To get that amount of points on the road in the first year that I’m in the job is a credit to them because I think we’ve thrown away points at times, but it’s something to build on.
The Latin American players you brought in have been a big part of that culture you speak of. What drew you to them?
I think, if you look at any player, if they’re not good, then I don’t want them. So, they’ve got to have quality, they’ve also got to have a character about them, they’ve got to be good people off the field as well as on the field. That’s very important for this club and for me.
Also, they’ve got to have a hunger in their game. They’ve got to want to get better. They can’t just want to come here and have a holiday, or think this is a retirement place. They’ve got to have hunger in them, and if I want to train the way we want to play, than that’s important to developing the culture.
With all of them, it’s important that you try to make them comfortable, as with any player. They’re a brilliant bunch of boys to work with. They make it enjoyable. I’ve enjoyed coming to work every day, even when we’ve lost. It’s been enjoyable, because they are just really good guys that want to do well.
How much roster turnover does Robinson expect in 2015? Is the club open to bringing in another Designated Player? The 'Caps manager answers these questions and more in Part 2 of his exclusive interview with whitecapsfc.com, which will be released on Sunday.
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