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Whitecaps hand CEO Schuster four-year contract extension

Axel Schuster Vancouver Whitecaps Axel Schuster - The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — Axel Schuster was never concerned about signing a long-term deal to remain CEO and sporting director of the Vancouver Whitecaps.

He believed a contract extension would come as he continued planning for the club's future. His wife, meanwhile, had questions over when the paperwork would get signed.

"At some point, my wife asked me, 'Are we really staying in Canada for longer? You have no contract done,'" Schuster, who hails from Cologne, Germany, said Tuesday after the club announced he had signed a four-year extension.

"The whole process of really getting the contract done took awhile because there was so much focus on other things."

Schuster has been with the club since November 2019 and guided the 'Caps through a tumultuous period.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the 'Caps to relocate three times, setting up camp first in Florida for the MLS is Back tournament, then finishing out the 2020 campaign in Portland. The team also started the 2021 season based out of Sandy, Utah, due to border closures.

Schuster said the way the entire staff handled the upheaval has been a high of his tenure. Staying positive in the face of so much adversity was a low.

“As a Canadian club, we had to go through a lot," he said. "And coming in to tell everyone every day, ‘There are no excuses, guys. There are explanations, yes, but there are no excuses. And we will not change where we put the bar.’ I think that was a tough point.”

Allegations of sexual misconduct against two former coaches have also plagued the Whitecaps in recent years.

Dealing with the allegations and an ensuing independent investigation was difficult, Schuster said.

“I think we as an organization have done a lot in the last three years and changed a lot," he said.

There have been ups and downs on the field, too.

The team tumbled to the bottom of Major League Soccer's Western Conference in August 2021, prompting Schuster to fire head coach Marc Dos Santos. Vanni Sartini, who previously served as the club's "director of methodology," took his place.

The 'Caps went 7-2-5 under Sartini and made the 2021 playoffs, marking the club's first post-season appearance in four years. Vancouver signed the Italian coach to a two-year deal in November.

Vancouver got off to a slow start in 2022, though, taking a single point in its first eight games.

The club rebounded through the summer and won the Canadian Championship, but is still fighting for a playoff berth with a single game left in regular-season play. The Whitecaps (12-14-7) can get back to the post-season with a road win over Minnesota United on Sunday.

"Even with having now the chance to go to playoffs, we are very critical and hard on us because we think we should have done better, we should have a few more points this season so far," Schuster said.

The CEO and sporting director said putting more hardware in the club's trophy case over the next four years is his main priority.

“I know our fans are waiting for that forever," Schuster said. "And winning on and off the pitch is the most important thing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.