Despite teetering on the edge of playoff contention and having lost two straight games, Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie is urging fans not to panic.
Rennie is feeling cool and confident ahead of Vancouver’s trip to Jeld-Wen Field to face struggling regional rivals the Portland Timbers (5-13-6) on Saturday.
The Whitecaps (10-9-7) have had a week off to train since a 2-0 road loss in Seattle, and Rennie feels that time has made all the difference.
“It’s been really important,” the coach said Thursday. “Just being out there and seeing how much we’ve missed being on the training field.
“Especially when you add a couple of players, it’s a lot of work to get everything integrated the way you just want it to be, and I think we’ve not really had the chance to be on the training field as much as we would like.
“But this week we have, and over the next number of weeks we should have that a lot, so that’s going to be good and that’s important for us.”
Vancouver has struggled on the road recently, having lost its last four MLS encounters outside B.C.
And to make the current situation more tense, FC Dallas has closed to within five points of the fifth-place `Caps, although Vancouver does hold a game in hand. The ‘Caps lost 2-0 at home to Dallas prior to Seattle.
Adding to Rennie’s confidence is the return of MLS all-star and team captain Jay DeMerit, who sat out the game against the Sounders with concussion. He’s also have Scottish midfielder Barry Robson who served his one-match suspension.
DeMerit, who is set to partner with Irish central defender Andy O’Brien in the middle of defence, and midfielder John Thorrington said the full week of practice has been vital.
“We’ve been able to do more tactical work and set team shapes and things like that, which we haven’t had a chance to work on when you have Wednesday and Saturday games back to back,” DeMerit said. “So I think it was good for that and now it’s just about implementing that on Saturday.”
Added Thorrington: “I think what you see is that extra bit of edge and focus going into our next game and everybody putting everything into it wanting to get us back to winning ways.”
Aside from international call-ups, the Whitecaps have had to endure a nasty run of suspensions — Ghanaian midfielder Gershon Koffie is banned this weekend — and injuries.
Those factors, however, have given valuable playing time to both O’Brien and striker Kenny Miller, who has yet to muster a shot on goal in five appearances, as well as minutes to fringe players Carlyle Mitchell, Atiba Harris, Matt Watson, Russell Teibert and Caleb Clarke.
“For us it’s trying to get a settled line-up as quickly as we can,” Rennie said. “We have four home games coming up in a stretch towards the end of the season which is obviously very important for us but before that we’ve got big games on the road.
“So we must do well in those games and try and get some kind of consistency building up to the end of the season because the way it always works in North America is you have to be getting better as the season goes along.”
But the overriding message to supporters is the past two results weren’t as bad as the score suggested, so relax.
“Don’t panic and don’t worry,” a smiling Rennie said. “I think we’re doing very well, we’re in a good position, and obviously we’re very focused on doing well.
“We just need to get ourselves going again, get over the disappointments of the last couple of games and I’m sure we will.”
The Timbers, meanwhile, are rooted to the bottom of the Western Conference table and haven’t won since July 3.