The History of Whitecaps Coaches

New Caps manager joins a list that includes numerous successful coaches
by Don McArthur   |   Monday, December 23, 2013

All Caps - column on Vancouver Whitecaps FC (VWFC) & the British Columbia soccer scene.

When Carl Robinson was named manager of the Whitecaps for the 2014 season, he joined a long list of head coaches, many of whom had great success with the club.

The team announced their new manager as the 15th in club history, interestingly omitting Tommy Soehn from the list, but in reality Robinson is the 16th head coach in the 40-year history of the Whitecaps.

Four of the previous managers won league titles, several others won the Cascadia Cup and most finished their tenure with winning records.

It’s no wonder the expectations of the front office are so high. The club’s winning tradition dictates that the manager should lead the squad to success. For the Whitecaps, success equals trophies.

While Robinson has joined the long list of Whitecaps managers, he will have to more than qualify for the playoffs if he is to be discussed in the same conversation as the club’s best coaches of all time. Since the NASL era of the 70s, the managerial bar has been set high.

The NASL era

There were 7 managers in the original NASL days, with Jim Easton as the first manager in club history, taking to the sidelines on May 5, 1974. The former Hibernian and Dundee player managed to guide the team to an 11th place finish in the first season, and a 9th place finish the following year. Eckhard Krautzun was appointed manager following Easton’s departure.

Before Krautzun joined Whitecaps in 1976, he was the first non-Canadian coach to manage the Canadian Men’s National Team. While his time coaching Canada was not successful, he did help the Caps qualify for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in his first season as manager. Despite the success, the German manager was known for his defensive style of play, which was not popular with supporters. Part way through his 2nd season, he was replaced by fellow countryman, Holger Osieck.

Osieck, best known in Canada for coaching the national team to victory in the 2000 Gold Cup, came to the Whitecaps in 1977 as a player. He played 21 matches for the club. When Krautzun was sacked, Osieck took over as player-coach for several matches, before Tony Waiters was hired.

While the club managed playoff appearances in both ’76 and ’77, losing both years in the first round to Seattle Sounders, Waiters was able to take the Whitecaps to greater heights. In 1979, Waiters and the Whitecaps won the league championship.

After winning the club’s first championship, Waiters became president and general manager. He appointed Bob McNab as his replacement.

McNab came to the Whitecaps as a defender in 1979, after many successful years playing in England at clubs including Arsenal. His tenure as Whitecaps manager was brief, however, as McNab retired from the game part way through the 1980 season.

Waiters returned to the sidelines for the remainder of 1980, before appointing Johnny Giles as manager for the ’81 season.

Giles, the Irish international who played for the likes of Manchester United and Leeds United, coached the ‘Caps for 3 seasons, amassing a record of 69-29-0. Despite regular season success, his squads were unable to advance past the quarterfinals in the playoffs. In 1984, Giles left the Whitecaps and took the job as manager of West Bromwich Albion. Giles later revealed that he didn’t enjoy managing, especially the front office politics, and had no regrets about ending his managerial career in 1985.

The 7th and final manager of the original NASL era, was Alan Hinton. He coached the team to a 4th place regular season finish, eventually losing to Chicago Sting in the playoff semifinals. Hinton is the only manager to have coached more than one Cascadia club, having also managed the Sounders.

In 1985, NASL ceased operations, leaving the Whitecaps without a league in which to play. The following year, the club was reborn as the Vancouver 86ers.

The rebirth of the club

The club became a founding member of the Canadian Soccer League, and under their first coach of the new era, current President Bob Lenarduzzi, the team would have the most successful run in its history.

Lenarduzzi managed the club to 4 consecutive championship titles from 1988-91, which perhaps led to the high expectations the club now has for its managers.

When the CSL folded following the 1992 season, the club joined the American Professional Soccer League, and Lenarduzzi continued as manager, leading the club to another 1st place regular season finish. The team would go on to lose to Los Angeles in the playoff semifinals.

Lenarduzzi’s success with the Whitecaps led to him earning the job as CMNT coach in 1994. Following his departure, Carl Valentine became the ‘Caps 9th manager.

While Lenarduzzi managed the club during the most successful years in club history, Valentine, the former Whitecaps striker, could not match his predecessor’s success. Valentine’s squads did qualify for the playoffs in 4 of the 6 seasons he was manager, but could do no better than 2 semifinal appearances. Valentine was brought back to the club, when the ‘Caps joined MLS, as a “community ambassador”, making appearances at club sponsored events. He remains one of the most popular figures in the club’s history.

Following Valentine’s reign, Vancouverite, and former Portland Timbers striker, Dale Mitchell took over as manager. Mitchell led the club to quarterfinal and semifinal playoff runs in his two seasons as head coach, before taking the job as Canada U20 coach in 2002.

Mitchell’s assistant coach, Tony Fonseca, was named the new Whitecaps manager for the 2002 season. Like Mitchell, Fonseca, the former Portuguese international and Benfica fullback, was able to take the team to the playoffs each season as manager, but was unable to help the club win any league titles. Fonseca did lead the club to their first Cascadia Cup title, however, in 2004.

Since leaving the club in 2005, Fonseca has been part of Canada’s national team, as an assistant coach of the men’s team, head coach of the U23 squad, and currently as the CSA’s Technical Director.

Bob Lilley followed Fonseca as manager, taking over in 2005. In his first season, the club captured its 2nd Cascadia Cup. In 2006, he led the club to its 6th league championship, beating Rochester in the final. However, Lilley’s squad lost in the first round of the 2007 playoffs to archrival Portland Timbers, and he was sacked two days later.

Former Iceland international striker, Teitur Thordarson, was appointed manager in 2008. In his first season as manager, the Whitecaps won the league title, their 7th in franchise history, and hoisted their 3rd Cascadia Cup.

In 2009, Thordarson had seemingly led his team to their first Canadian Championship title and Champions League berth, until Montreal manager Marc Dos Santos rested his starters in the final match versus Toronto, enabling TFC to earn a 6-1 victory, which gifted the Reds the Voyageurs Cup trophy on goal differential. Thordarson’s squad then lost to the same Montreal team in the league’s playoff final.

In his third season as head coach, Thordarson led the team to the playoff semifinals, and again finished runner-up in the Canadian Championship. Despite not reaching the highs of 2008, the club’s front office felt he was the right coach to lead the team when the club made the jump up to MLS in 2011.

The move to MLS

Thordarson was only allowed 12 matches to prove his worth in MLS, as he was sacked after a 1-5-6 start to the 2011 season.

Tommy Soehn took to the sidelines for the remaining 22 matches of the season, leading the club to its worst season in franchise history, a 6-18-10 record, and 18th place finish.

In 2012, Martin Rennie became the 15th manager in club history. His first season was less than impressive, leading the club to an 11th place finish in the regular season, and first round loss in the playoffs. The team also finished runner-up to TFC in the Canadian Championship final for the 4th year in a row.

Despite helping the club win their 4th Cascadia Cup in 2013, Rennie’s squad slid further in the league standings, to 13th, and did not qualify for the playoffs. The club also lost the Voyageurs Cup final, finishing runners-up for a 5th straight year, after losing the 2nd leg of the final to the Montreal Impact at BC Place. At the end of the season, Rennie was sacked, not surprisingly.

Despite the recent poor league and Voyageurs Cup results, Whitecaps have a long and illustrious history, which has included top notch coaching from most of the previous 15 managers. As the club’s 16th manager, Robinson will be charged with returning the club to glory; nothing less than trophies will suffice.

NEXT UP: March 8 – Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Red Bull New York, BC Place, Vancouver, Canada. 7:30 p.m. EST, MLS Live.


Club Domestic:
Vancouver Whitecaps
Club Foreign:
River Plate, FCB, Rangers
Never invited for a tryout with Whitecaps, so writes about them instead. Leading a double life in Calgary & Vancouver. Lived and watched the beautiful game in places as far-flung as Toronto and Buenos Aires. Lover of cities and [most of] their citizens.