Tom Soehn has been handed the job of trying to salvage the Vancouver Whitecaps' troubled season.
Soehn took over from Teitur Thordarson, who was fired Monday after his club managed just one opening-day win 12 games into their first Major League Soccer campaign.
"It caught me by surprise, but after thinking about it, I can only be excited about the opportunity," said Soehn, who has served as the club's technical director for the past year and a half.
Management had been reviewing Thordarson's status for weeks. The club decided to make a change after the Whitecaps squandered a 1-0 lead in only about 10 minutes and had to settle for a 1-1 home draw against a New York Red Bulls club that was missing four starters Saturday.
The expansion club won its first-ever MLS game at home over Toronto FC, but has gone 11 games without a win since then.
The Portland Timbers are also new to the league this season, but boast a record that's considerably better at 5-4-2.
The team has had to deal with injuries, suspensions, and player absences due to national-team responsibilities. And despite its record, the club has made several exciting comebacks, including a game in March versus New England where Vancouver rallied from 3-0 down to tie 3-3.
Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber, however, said the decision was made now to allow Soehn enough time to try to get the club into the playoffs.
"We felt that 12 games into the season, we're over a third of the way through, we've got one win," said Barber. "We needed to act and we needed to act decisively."
Soehn, 45, was appointed for the balance of the season but indicated that he would like to stay longer. The Chicago native has nine years of previous MLS coaching experience including six seasons at D.C. United — the last three as head coach.
During his time as an assistant, D.C. United won both the 2004 MLS Cup title and the 2006 MLS Supporters' Shield as regular-season champions. In his first season as head coach in 2007, United repeated as regular-season championship.
He also served as a head coach and assistant with his hometown Chicago Fire for three seasons. During his 13-year playing career, he helped the Fire win an MLS Cup in its first season and also toiled in the Canada Soccer League with the Ottawa Intrepid and Hamilton Steelers in 1989 and 1990.
Now, Soehn has the task of developing many of the players he recruited.
"Tommy's got a lot of experience in this league, he's clearly a very likeable individual, and he's also been the architect of the roster that we've got," said Barber. "So he knows these guys, they respect him, they were brought into the club by him, so we feel that Tommy's the right man to take the team forward."
Soehn said the Whitecaps will play an attractive brand of soccer that fans deserve.
"We're going to make sure we're organized, we're going to make sure we're compact, and we're going to make sure we're tough to play against," said Soehn. "And, we're going to look to be aggressive in the attack, especially at home.
"This is like a fortress. Teams should be petrified to come play here, and I think that's something we need to re-establish."
Thordarson, a 59-year-old Icelander, spent three and a half years at the Vancouver helm. He guided the Whitecaps to the 2008 United Soccer Leagues title. He was retained as the club moved to North America's top league, but had no previous MLS experience.
"He was surprised, he was disappointed, but I think in difficult circumstances he showed his class and his acceptance of the decision," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi.
Management and players insisted Thordarson, who had more than four decades of European coaching experience, had not lost the dressing room and still had the respect of his charges.
But Lenarduzzi said a chance at a playoff spot was slipping away.
"Prior to the season starting, our objective was to make the playoffs and beyond that we were being very forward-thinking and were looking at a championship as well," said Lenarduzzi. "That may have been a bit of a lofty goal, but our expectations were high."
Captain Jay DeMerit said players have to continue to improve, and must take responsibility for Thordarson's dismissal.
"As players, we need to understand what this means," said DeMerit. "We need to understand that we all need to be on the same page in a regime change… As long as we can do that, we can continue to improve as a group — and that's all that matters at the moment."
Goalkeeping coach Mike Salmon was also dismissed at Soehn's discretion. The new boss indicated he and Salmon were not "on the same page."
Soehn has just returned from an overseas scouting mission, but he sidestepped the question of whether the Whitecaps, who have a full roster of 30 players, will bring in new talent.
The Whitecaps have a difficult stretch ahead with three road games in 10 days, starting Wednesday against Chivas USA in Los Angeles. They will also visit Real Salt Lake on Saturday and Seattle on June 11.
"We'll continue to search for pieces that will make us stronger," said Soehn. "But the exciting part for me is that we have a group of players that I believe in. So, from that respect, I'm excited to get going."