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It was Decision Day in Major League Soccer, but the Vancouver Whitecaps had already made theirs.
Vanni Sartini is their head coach.
To cheers and applause from the 24,000 fans at B.C. Place on Saturday night, the Whitecaps announced that Sartini had signed a two-year extension with the club.
“We are thrilled to officially announce in front of our amazing fans that we have reached an agreement with Vanni to extend his contract,” said Axel Schuster, Whitecaps FC sporting director.
“Vanni’s dedication and passion has shown he can take this club to new heights. He has successfully implemented a strong philosophy and style of play with the team as the leader.
“Not only has Vanni made an impact in the locker room and on the pitch, but he also continues to energize our club with his enthusiastic personality. He has embraced Vancouver and built strong relationships with our supporters, as well as our staff. We are very pleased to have Vanni as our coach as we look to continue to win trophies and make history.”
Sartini might not be the winningest head coach in team history — yet — but he’s certainly the most beloved, with his passionate displays and earnest comments earning him a devout following with the team’s supporters. He’s also made huge strides with the team, winning back-to-back Canadian Championships for the first time in MLS era, and making the playoffs two out of the three years he’s been in charge. The Caps also narrowly missed out on the post-season in 2022, in a dramatic Decision Day loss on the road in Minnesota.
His winning percentage of 41.25 is the best among Whitecaps MLS coaches, but he’s still 43 wins across all competitions behind leader Carl Robinson.
A defensive-minded coach, he also helped usher in a new brand of offensively attractive soccer, with the highest goals-per-game average in the team’s MLS history (1.5) and the team scoring a team-record 75 goals so far in 2023. He took the team to the round of 32 in the Leagues Cup this season, going undefeated in regulation against Liga MX powerhouses Tigres and Club Leon.
“I am happy, actually ecstatic, to extend my contract with Whitecaps FC,” Sartini said.
“Vancouver has become home for me and my wife, and we are very excited to continue to live in this fantastic city. Since the day of my interim appointment, through the two years as head coach, the fans have been amazing both in memorable nights like our two Canadian Championships or the wins against our Cascadia rivals, and at the same time always behind the team and myself in every moment of difficulty.
“The team has developed and grown a lot over the last two seasons, and I am convinced we are trending towards even more great achievements and special nights. Andiamo!”
The Whitecaps are 38-31-27 across all competitions since Sartini took over from Marc Dos Santos, who’d hired him as an assistant in 2019. Vancouver is also 28-9-12 at home under Sartini, their wins total of 24 regular season victories sitting third overall in the league. The Caps have also recorded 30 points when rallying from behind, fifth-most in the league, and have 20 shutouts, 11th best league wide in that time.
Before joining Dos Santos’s staff in 2018, Sartini was a coach’s coach, working with both the U.S. and Italian soccer federations as a coaching educator. Prior to that, he was head coach of A.S. Mezzana for three seasons, an assistant coach with A.S. Livorno Calcio — whom he helped earn promotion to Serie A — and an assistant coach with S.S.C. Bari.
After spending two years as an assistant to Dos Santos, Sartini transitioned to the role of the club’s director of methodology and U-23’s head coach. Sartini oversaw the implementation of development, training and coach education philosophies used throughout the club. Sartini holds a UEFA pro licence, the highest coaching certification available, and is fluent in Italian, English, Spanish, and Japanese.
He’s had an extensive career, but it’s being in charge of the Whitecaps where he feels he’s made his biggest strides.
“Change? I don’t know. It’s a big word. I think ‘developed,’ it’s a better word,” he said on Thursday, when asked how he’s changed over the past two seasons.
“I spent a lot of years either coaching in the second team of the youth or being the assistant coach of the first-team level. So I never had to manage the kind of unhappiness of people that are out, and those kinds of things. So I think that I improved a lot there. I improved a lot there because I didn’t have before the task to manage above, speaking with people about me. And at the beginning, it was totally new for me. I think I’m still improving there.
“And the other thing on the field i would say that I realized that, like everything in life, sometimes you have to compromise. You can have the best ideas or you can be very sure that your idea is the best, but you need to be sure that the player believes that too. So sometimes you need to maybe do a step back in order to do two steps forward.”
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