After several months of watching from a distance the new coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps is finally getting a chance to work with the Major League Soccer team.
Martin Rennie, who the Whitecaps hired in August, was on the pitch Wednesday as the team began a training camp that will help decide which players will return next year.
Rennie hopes to use the eight-day camp to get to know the Whitecap players, some he has only seen on video or watched on television.
“I have a good idea about the players here,” said the native of Thurso, Scotland. “This is the first chance to see them in person, on the training grounds.
“The first objective for me is to give these guys a fair chance. They have been through a lot this season. These guys get their chance to show me what they can do.”
Rennie is the third Whitecaps' coach in the team's inaugural MLS season. Teitur Thordarson was fired just 12 games into the campaign and replaced by Tommy Soehn on an interim basis.
Soehn will return to his job of director of soccer operations.
Rennie remained as coach of the Carolina RailHawks of the North American Soccer League until the team's season ended. The RailHawks had the best record in the NASL but lost on penalty kicks to the Minnesota Stars in the league semifinal.
He now takes over a Whitecaps team that struggled to a 6-18-10 record, never really was in MLS playoff contention and didn't win an away game.
Rennie said he's more focused on the future than the past.
“As far as I am concerned last season is gone for these players,” he said. “There is nothing they can do about that, other than perhaps glance back and learn from it.
“We have to more forward.”
A slightly-built man with jet black hair, Rennie looked comfortable in answering questions from media. Building a winning culture in a team that spent most of last season losing will be one of his priorities.
“The culture has to be a positive, winning culture,” he said. “You have to build that first before you get wins.
“A lot of people think you win and you build confidence. Actually you need to build a winning culture first and then the wins start to happen from there.”
Rennie showed a little steel by saying there will be personnel changes.
“I think there will be some turnover,” he said. “I think to build on what we've done so far we need to take the good things that we've got and build on that.
“That will require some turnover. There are good players here. I don't think it's unusual, in a first-year team when you are building an entire roster from scratch, that there will be things you want to improve in the second year.”
Adding a ball-winning central midfielder and another centre defender are two players Rennie believes the Whitecaps need. He also would like more MLS experience.
“There are a few holes,” he said of the Whitecaps lineup. “One of the things is building a team that can play both sides of the ball.
“At times the team was good when it attacked, but if it didn't score it was very vulnerable and likely to lose a goal. We have to be very difficult to play against and very difficult to beat.”
Bob Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps president, said the training camp will be more about getting acquainted than drawing up X's and O's.
“This mini-camp will give him a chance to interact with the players,” said Lenarduzzi. “I'm not sure it is going to be that important from a technical perspective.
“I think for him it's going to be an opportunity to get to know the people and sit down with guys on a one-on-one basis and find out a little more about what makes them tick.”
Rennie comes with an impressive coaching resume.
He led the RailHawks to a conference title last year before losing the championship 3-1 on aggregate to Puerto Rico.
Rennie was nominated as coach of the year four straight seasons, winning in 2008 while coaching the Cleveland City Stars to the USL third division title.
His playing career was cut short by a knee injury but he obtained his UEFA ‘A' coaching license at age 26.
There was speculation Rennie was a candidate for the head coaching job with the Montreal Impact, who will join MLS next year. That's why Vancouver made the unusual move of signing him but leaving Soehn in place until the season ended.
Despite losing on the field the Whitecaps still had the third highest average attendance in MLS. The team will play next season in the newly renovated BC Place Stadium, which has a soccer specific configuration and retractable roof.
Rennie said the Whitecaps can only improve.
“It's actually a good thing to come into a team that maybe has not had a great season,” he said. “Sometimes if you come in and the team is at the top and doing really well there is more pressure on you and the team can go down.
“I'm under no illusions about it being a big challenge. It's also a great opportunity. It's a chance to be in pretty much at the start of something new. It's the right time for me to be in this opportunity.”
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