Martin Rennie had things easy the past couple of weeks.
But after having the luxury of keeping his lineup intact for two games, the Vancouver Whitecaps coach has no shortage of tough decisions to make heading into an important Major League Soccer game Saturday in Portland against the Timbers.
Suspensions, a potential injury-induced absence and the need to kick-start a club that has lost its past two games will force the Vancouver coach to act. The fifth-place Caps (9-7-5) are seeking their first-ever MLS win over the Timbers (8-3-2), who are tied for second, as both clubs try to keep pace in a tight Western Conference.
The starting goalkeeper choice ranks at, or near, the top of Rennie’s decisions list as the coach contemplates whether to give newcomer David Ousted his first start of the season or keep going with Brad Knighton. The second-year goaltender has lost his past two games after helping the Whitecaps go unbeaten in their previous six.
But Rennie does not regard his goalkeeper pick as a difficult decision.
“It’s a lot better than our centre backs are doing, for example, where we don’t have any choices [after several injuries],” said Rennie. “It’s nice to have choices.
“Not only that, but [former No. 1 and now No. 3] Joe Cannon is a great goalkeeper and [No. 4] Simon [Thomas] is a good goalkeeper, too. It’s a good position for us.”
Ousted, a 28-year-old former Danish Superliga star, signed in June and did not become eligible until an international transfer window opened July 9. If the Greve, Denmark native gets the call, he will be the third goalkeeper to go between the posts for the Whitecaps this season after Knighton, 28, wrestled the starting job away from Cannon, 38.
“I think that [Knighton] has been doing well and [Ousted] is looking really sharp now,” Rennie said.
Ousted spent the past three seasons with Randers FC in the Danish Superliga, earning 35 clean sheets in 103 appearances. He is eager to play after honing his craft in practice and watching games from the bench.
Although he is willing to be patient and wait for his chance, the goalkeeper has found it very difficult to watch.
“I hate being on the bench,” Ousted said. “I always have. I think every footballer wants to play, and I’m the same. I want to play every time.”
Portland’s Weld-Jen Field is known for being a hostile environment. The Whitecaps have never beaten the Timbers there or anywhere else since the two clubs entered MLS in 2011. But the Caps earned a home tie against Portland in May.
“If there was some good spectators there and a couple of boos in there, that’s something I thrive on,” Ousted said. “I love that. It just makes me play even better. So I’m not nervous getting in there. I’m just waiting for my chance to prove myself.”
Coach Rennie also has a potentially tough call to make up front as striker Kenny Miller battles a groin injury suffered in a 1-0 loss to Philadelphia last weekend, when the Whitecaps played down a man for all but eight minutes. Depending on Miller’s availability, Kekuta Manneh, 18, the club’s top draft choice [fourth overall] this year, is a candidate for his second start of the season.
“It would be great to start the game,” Manneh said. “It’s a big game for the club, and everybody’s looking forward to it, and it’s a really important game for us. So, if it is a matter of playing one minute or 90 minutes, I will try to add as much as I can and try to be a big part of the team.”
The Gambian speedster has excelled while coming off the bench, producing two goals and an assist in just 274 minutes of playing time in 12 appearances.
Midfield also appears to be a concern as Jun Marques Davidson and Gershon Koffie serve one-game suspensions.
Davidson’s suspension stems from the red card he received for head-butting a Philadelphia player in the back last weekend. Fortunately, he avoided further punishment from the league’s disciplinary committee.
Koffie’s ban is due to yellow-card accumulation.
Despite the need for changes, Rennie still likes his club’s chances against a Portland squad that lost two of its four games in July but has suffered just a league-low three losses.
“If we execute well, we’ve shown that we’ve got a good chance against any team,” said Rennie.
Notes: Centre back Brad Rusin is slated to play after recovering from a hip injury that forced him out of the game against Philadelphia.