Breaking Down Vancouver Whitecaps Co-owner Jeff Mallett’s Interview

Vancouver Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett gave some insight into the workings of the Whitecaps ownership in a newspaper interview this week.

Jeff Mallett, one-quarter of the Vancouver Whitecaps ownership group and former president of Yahoo!, gave an interview with The Province newspaper before Sunday’s 0-0 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes. A few of Mallett’s comments will have stood out to Whitecaps fans who have watched the team’s struggles over the last year.

On ‘being a Whitecap’

There’s a number of areas but one that resonates with me is re-evaluating what a player’s commitment to the first team is for Major League Soccer. What it means to be a Whitecap, and what are those expectations coming in? From physical fitness, the mental side, lifestyle, everything.

For some players coming in we say that and they respect that because they’re professional footballers, but are they really on board?

Mallett seems to feel that key Whitecaps players underperformed this season – not an assessment many Whitecaps fans will disagree with. Club president Bobby Lenarduzzi didn’t pull his punches in a recent interview either, suggesting that the team has lacked leadership this season.

Mallett was relatively diplomatic about naming names, but plenty of fingers are pointing towards club captain Pedro Morales. Morales is Vancouver’s highest earner on a base salary of $1.2 million, but the team has often looked better without him in the side. A red card against the Seattle Sounders two weeks ago for throwing an elbow may have been the Chilean midfielder’s last appearance for the Whitecaps. Morales was in the news again this week for a training ground clash with goalkeeper David Ousted.

 On the club’s model

We’re fundamentally more FC Dallas than we are Toronto FC.

Mallet made this point several times throughout the interview. The Whitecaps management have been clear time and time again that the club’s model is to build a team around young players brought up through the academy or the USL team. No Kaka or Lampard here. Just players who buy into what it means to ‘be a Whitecap’. The problem is, objectively, the Whitecaps have been in the MLS for six seasons now. In that time, their academies have produced a grand total of one Russell Teibert, who has still not been able to nail down a consistent starting spot. This season, Brett Levis and wonderkid Alphonso Davies have made the jump from the USL team to MLS contracts. But if the Whitecaps are going to use this model, they need more success stories.

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Brett Levis (46) signed an MLS contract this season after impressing for Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 in the USL. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC, meanwhile, are a stellar example of how a well-chosen Designated Player (Giovinco) can make a difference. Despite Mallett’s dismissal of TFC, there are however hints that a new approach to DPs is being considered:

I think the one area we have to keep an eye on is our model with regards to (designated players). Is our approach for those type of players right? That’s an area we’re scrubbing really hard.

That at least is a positive for a team with one DP spot currently vacant, and another possibly soon to be vacant if Morales departs at the end of the season.

On Scouting

We like our approach. We still think Central and South America is probably the best value.

The Whitecaps have brought in a lot of players from Central and South America over the last couple of years, with mixed success. This year, Christian Bolaños has been one of the team’s few standout performers. Other gambles have been less successful. Jordan Smith has been a major player in the disastrous attempt to replace Steven Beitashour at the right-back position. Cristian Techera was a revelation last season on loan, but since making the move permanent has been inconsistent at best. Deybi Flores disappeared back to Honduras in August. Octavio Rivero scored two goals in 12 appearances this season before heading to Chile. It’s not an inspiring list.

Overall, it seems like at least the ownership team are hearing the concerns from Whitecaps fans. The problems have been obvious all season – lack of leadership, defensive frailties, scoring difficulties, and disciplinary issues. At the same time, Mallett seems adamant that the club’s business model and scouting system will not change. It remain to be seen whether it will be possible to address one without making changes to the other.