Jumping the Gun: Michael Silberbauer out at Pacific

Michael Silberbauer will have lots of options in Denmark. (Photo: canpl.ca)

It feels like it should have been Rob Gale, doesn’t it?

It still could be, of course. Someone had to go first, and so it falls to Pacific FC, somehow appropriately, to become the first Canadian Premier League club to fire a coach.

Last in, first out, I guess.

It feels harsh. On the one hand, this is professional football–managers are hardly long-term appointments. On the other, it’s such a small league. Such a Canadian league. It feels impolite, if nothing else, to fire a coach after just six months on the job.

Rob Friend has been pretty open about why Michael Silberbauer is out, telling Martin Bauman at the league website: “I think these players have been flat. They seemed a little bit uninspired, and we made the decision to shake it up before this last game, because we want to win tomorrow.”

Pacific could still finish as high as fourth with a win over Valour and some help elsewhere.

“This wasn’t a reactive decision. This is a decision that’s been thought about, discussed internally, for a while. And again, what is this club going to look like in the next five years?”

Silberbauer was unlikely to be a long-term hire. He was a tremendously odd hire–the only foreign head coach in CanPL, and fresh off his playing days. If he’d performed, it seems likely he’d have jumped to Europe at some point sooner than later with a nice line on his résumé, and it may be he’s doing that now anyway. He was a Danish legend as a player, and will have plenty of connections even if his managerial debut was, like many, short.

He’s a quiet guy, Silberbauer, and he always seemed a bit at odds with the Canadian system to me. CanPL isn’t quite as weird as MLS, but the travel puts strain on everyone, even managers.

Pacific essentially had co-coaches: Silberbauer and the Canadian university journeyman James Merriman, who will take over as an interim manager for the final match today and has to be one of the top names in consideration moving forward given Pacific’s stated local focus.

I don’t know that I quite buy the “uninspired” line. Pacific have been a lot of things this year–inconsistent, for sure, as you’d expect a young team to be–but rarely has it looked like they lack effort. Tactically, Silberbauer wasn’t always the prettiest, but he worked with what he had given the young players and was always astute when asked about his decisions post-match.

This feels like a fit move, and it may well be the best move long-term. The danger isn’t so much in creating a carousel of managers as it is sending a poor message to fans before next season.

To fire a manager this early is to acknowledge the club’s hierarchy got it wrong off the start. There’s no shame in that, necessarily, if it’s handled well. But with Pacific this kind of odd signalling is becoming a pattern, and risks becoming an identity of its own. This is the club that started the year with just 19 players under contract. It set Marcus Haber–a guy with but a handful of goals in the past years–up as a star in its promotions. The young players have been fun; the expectation, though, hasn’t always reflected reality.

One wonders, too, just how much of this roster build was Merriman’s? Guys like Ryan McCurdy and and Zach Verhoven, the former a CCAAer and the latter a UBC standout, felt like Pacific reaching deep into a local talent pool Silberbauer couldn’t possibly have been familiar with given he only arrived in January, after the open tryouts and USPORTs draft. Both those avenues have landed CanPL teams some diamonds, but not Pacific. Verhoven’s been quite good; McCurdy has struggled. When I talk about fit, and Silberbauer being an odd hire, this is what I mean: he’s a former Danish international managing guys who played in VISL. That’s not always a good balance. There’s certainly not a lot of shared experience. If that’s the way forward, Silberbauer’s not the right guy.

Merriman is more of a local hero, and he’s won plenty with VIU in Nanaimo, a CCAA outfit he both played and coached with his father. I have my doubts he can get much more out of a roster that’s predominantly Whitecaps cast-offs: Vancouver have been wasteful with youth development, but even if that continues, the club needs to find other avenues. Some of the brighter signings, like Hendrik Starostzik and Alexander Gonzalez, look more like Rob Friend and Josh Simpson’s connections at work.

For any club that fires a coach, and not least the first, the question becomes “what next?” Done without a plan, this is a potential mistake. Friend’s comments suggest there is an ideal, a search–the usual process.

But while other teams spend the offseason building on what they’ve identified, Pacific will be resetting from scratch.

About Dylan Matthias 127 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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