Lenarduzzi out as Whitecaps president while club seeks sporting director
MLS club says it's launching global search for new leadership as Lenarduzzi moves to liaison role
The Vancouver Whitecaps FC has announced it's eliminating the role of president and creating a new role of sporting director, moving incumbent Bob Lenarduzzi to a different position with the club.
Lenarduzzi will transition to the new role of club liaison, the Major League Soccer club said in a statement released Friday morning.
The Whitecaps say they are beginning a global search for a sporting director, who will lead the technical direction of the club.
"We are committed to taking the 'Caps to the next level, to being championship contenders. We've invested heavily in our soccer operations, from facilities to coast-to-coast soccer programming for boys and girls," said Jeff Mallett, Whitecaps FC co-owner in a statement released Friday morning.
"Bringing in a sporting director is the next step to take the club forward."
Lenarduzzi has been with the Whitecaps for 45 years, as a player, coach and executive.
"Whitecaps FC would not be Whitecaps FC without Bob Lenarduzzi," said Mallett. "His knowledge, relationships, and history with this club is unparalleled and will be invaluable as we enter our next chapter."
However, Lenarduzzi has recently come under fire for reasons on and off the field.
The Whitecaps haven't appeared in the MLS playoffs since 2017, and currently sit in last place in the Western Conference.
There was also criticism about the way the club dealt with an alleged 11-year-old abuse scandal with a Whitecaps women's team.
In a news conference Friday afternoon, Mallett said the scandal did not affect the club's decision to replace the role of president with a sporting director.
"There is no direct line that ties into that," said Mallett.
Ciara McCormack is a former player for the Whitecaps women's team who wrote a blog post in February accusing a former coach of abuse and harassment. She says she's pleased to see Lenarduzzi "demoted."
Back in 2007, McCormack said she spoke with Lenarduzzi about concerns she had over abuse of power within the team, but it did not lead to change.
"I trusted him with the information and I don't think he handled it correctly," she said.
But McCormack says problems with the Whitecaps run deep, and no one at an executive level has been held accountable for the handling of the allegations.
"It's hard to really affect things in a positive way if you're dealing with a broken culture. I think it's been pretty proven that the culture at the Whitecaps and Canada soccer is … in my opinion … broken."
'I take all the criticism with a grain of salt'
At the news conference, Lenarduzzi admitted that all the criticism he as come under concerning both the club's handling of the abuse allegations and the team's performance has bothered him.
"But a lot of the things I've been blamed for I haven't had a lot to do with. I take all the criticism with a grain of salt," he said.
Lenarduzzi has also been blamed on social media for scrimping on bringing in new talent. Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos said in the news conference that Lenarduzzi does not control recruitment, and does not deserve that blame.
Mallett says the sporting director will focus on the soccer side of the club and the team is looking for someone who can improve its record using networking skills and data analytics.
Lenarduzzi says he still has a lot to offer the club, particularly in building relationships with other clubs and academies.
"For me, I'm incredibly passionate about representing this club and brand here at home," he said in the statement.
"With the league growing the way it is, now is the right time to inject new leadership into the soccer side of our organization."
Preserving the Whitecaps legacy
Paul Sabourin-Hertzog, vice-president of Vancouver Southsiders, an independent fan club for the Whitecaps, says the demotion of Lenarduzzi and search for a sporting director is a step in the right direction, but it's coming a few months too late.
"The club is suffering very poor results on the field, and that has increased a lot of the frustrations that fans are feeling in other areas, he said.
Sabourin-Hertzog says the Whitecaps FC used to be synonymous with quality soccer, but that's changed. He wants a leadership shakeup to preserve the team's legacy.
"I feel reassured that the things we're seeing from the outside are also being seen from the inside," said Sabourin-Hertzog.
With files from Rehmatullah Sheik