For a team that ambitiously set out to make the playoffs in its inaugural Major League Soccer season, the Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club has come dangerously close to mimicking its Canadian cousin.
Toronto FC made a hash of its debut campaign in 2007, triggering a series of management and roster upheavals, and the Reds continue to languish into a fifth season.
Tuesday, the Whitecaps unveiled their third head coach since kicking off in March, matching the number of victories the club has achieved through two-thirds of its maiden MLS season.
New man Martin Rennie, a 36-year-old Scot, will not take the reins from outgoing interim boss Tommy Soehn until after he finishes the North American Soccer League season with the league-leading Carolina RailHawks. Soehn still harbours coaching aspirations, yet will remain with the Whitecaps as director of soccer operations, a role he has held since January 2010.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said the club still aspires to the postseason, but Vancouver desperately needs results in its next two matches, and even then it’s a long shot. Lenarduzzi would not go as far as saying that 2011 is a writeoff, but the expansion project officially moved into 2012 with Tuesday’s announcement, and it also acknowledged that the Caps got it wrong with the two men entrusted to steer the club through its inaugural campaign.
“In any organization, you have to be prepared to change if things aren’t working,” chief executive officer Paul Barber said.
The Caps say they moved pre-emptively to secure a hot young coach who had other MLS suitors, including a rumoured pursuit by the Montreal Impact, which will join the league next season.
“There is the basis of a good team,” Rennie said when asked why he chose Vancouver over others. “The infrastructure that this club has is second to none with the residency academy and the new stadium that the club is about to go into.”
Rennie, armed with a three-year contract and the final say on personnel, will officially take control no later than Nov. 1, when he’ll begin picking up the pieces from a campaign that started with so much promise – a 4-2 win on opening day against TFC – but has regressed with a string of defeats, clashes and coaching changes.
Just two months ago, Soehn replaced head coach Teitur Thordarson after a 1-5-6 start, the two men having disagreed too often on personnel and style to co-exist. Soehn went 2-6-3 in his brief tenure, including a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Fire Sunday before a season-low of 18,174 at Empire Field.
Last week, in the midst of a seven-match losing streak, the Caps made news when two separate donnybrooks broke out in the same training session, one involving 17-year-old forward Omar Salgado, the team’s top draft pick, who took a punch from a developmental player.
“There were two things I always said I wanted to do, and coaching was one of them,” Soehn said. “Building a team is another, and that job isn’t done yet.”
Rennie has had success at lower professional levels, boasting a career record of 87-33-40, but for someone who hails from the village of Bettyhill, way up in the Scottish Highlands, all of his coaching experience is in North America.
He said he moved to Charlotte to play professionally, but blew out his knee on the first day, never recovered as a player, and began working in software and pharmaceuticals before taking the plunge into coaching six years ago. Rennie said he favours a possession game that goes on the attack after crossing midfield, and his RailHawks teams have been proficient scorers, netting 141 goals in 91 games.
“I wanted to start coaching at a young age, and I wanted to be a head coach because I believed that for me to be successful, I had to have all my philosophy working,” Rennie said. “I wasn’t going to get that chance in Scotland at the age of 30.”
He’s got that in Vancouver. At least for now.