Vancouver Whitecaps hire ex-Schalke executive Axel Schuster as new director

The Vancouver Whitecaps have hired former Mainz and Schalke executive Axel Schuster as sporting director.

Schuster will report directly to ownership and will oversee the entire technical side of the Whitecaps organization, from youth all the way to the first team.

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Vice president of soccer operations Greg Anderson and manager Marc Dos Santos will both report directly to Schuster.

"When I first learned about this opportunity, I was immediately interested and excited. I'm really happy to be here, in this city, and officially start," Schuster said in a team release. "I've met a lot of people in the business.

"This ownership is really passionate and my first impression was that all the people I've met at the club work with that passion. That gave me a very good feeling. There's a lot of energy in everybody in this club. It's up to me and everyone at the club to work together, to bring this energy and achieve our targets.

The appointment comes in the wake of a hugely disappointing season for Vancouver, one that saw the Whitecaps finish last in the 12-team Western Conference with just 34 points in as many matches. Only expansion side FC Cincinnati recorded fewer points in Major League Soccer during 2019, Dos Santos' first in charge.

The organization determined back in August that a more robust player recruitment setup was needed, thus necessitating the need for a sporting director, with Bob Lenarduzzi stepping down as team president to take on a club liaison role.

At the time of the move, Lenarduzzi was also under pressure for the way he handled allegations of abuse and harassment made by players on the 2008 Whitecaps women's team and Canadian under-20 women's national teams that a coach employed by the Whitecaps had acted inappropriately. Fans engaged in a series of protests after the allegations came to light, and the Whitecaps' owners later issued an apology for the harm experienced by the players.

The Whitecaps later announced it would conduct an independent inquiry, the results of which have not been made public.

Schuster, 46, has spent the last 27 years in a variety of roles in his native Germany. Most recently he spent three years working at Schalke under sporting director Christian Heidel as the senior director of professional football. During that time Schalke finished second in the Bundesliga during the 2017-18 campaign, resulting in qualification to the UEFA Champions League.

Prior to his tenure at Schalke, he spent over 16 years as Mainz's head of football operations, working under Heidel and alongside highly regarded managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. During his time at the club, Mainz twice won promotion to the Bundesliga, and secured a spot in the UEFA Cup [the forerunner to the UEFA Europa league] in 2005-06, as well as the Europa League in both 2011-12 and 2014-15.

Schuster also served as a youth coach at Mainz starting in 1992.