Despite holding a playoff position, head coach Martin Rennie has made a number of key personnel changes to his Vancouver Whitecaps squad in recent weeks.VANCOUVER – When a club is doing relatively well, big change isn’t expected.
Yet for the Vancouver Whitecaps, which have bounced between third and fourth place in the Western Conference over the past couple of months, that’s exactly what’s been going on as of late.
In July alone, the club has seen debuts for Barry Robson, Kenny Miller and Dane Richards, and the exits of star players Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Sebastien Le Toux.
For some of the club’s players just coming back from injury, they’ve watched this all unfold largely from the sidelines – and while it has been a bit surprising, the players seem to have faith in head coach Martin Rennie’s plan.
“It’s been a little bit of a strange phenomena,” Matt Watson told Goal.com this week. “But I always think Martin knows what he’s doing. Obviously most of the players he’s brought in have had some sort of instant impact to the game and I think that will continue. Sometimes it’s not always about the talent – it’s about fitting in with the team and getting this chemistry between everyone.
“We did get rid some of the most talented guys in the group but maybe they weren’t necessarily fitting in like they were supposed to, in Martin’s eyes. The changes we’ve seen have already had some successes. You just have to buy into the system and believe that the coach knows what he’s doing.”
Hassli was perhaps the man most out of the mix among the departed – he never really got going under Rennie and lost his starting place, in large part due to the emergence of rookie Darren Mattocks as a prolific goal scorer.
Chiumiento’s sale to FC Zurich was a tad more surprising, given he started on the fringes of Rennie’s squad only to impress in the finals weeks before his departure and establish himself as the first-choice left midfielder.
While the Le Toux move surprised some, close followers of the team were aware of the player’s “square peg in a round hole” status. Rennie played the Frenchman as a wide attacker – a role unsuited for a player lacking pace or on-the-ball ability to create chances for himself and his teammates from the touchline.
“The additions we’ve made have all been high-quality players,” John Thorrington told Goal.com this week. “That’s not to say the guys that have left aren’t good players, but the coaches obviously weigh up these decisions and see what fits best. I think the fans and everybody have seen some of the benefits of having some of these guys already.
“Adding these experienced guys and some new guys that fit our formation and the way we want to play will benefit more and more as the season goes on.”
Richards in particular looks like a player who is a natural fit on the right side. Adding pace and a willingness to hug the line, he promises to stretch teams in a number of ways which should open up space for Vancouver to create more opportunities in the final third.
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Robson, for his part, started relatively slowly, but has shown his true quality since Rennie moved him centrally as opposed to out on the right. The new position offers the Scotsman more shooting opportunities and has made him more involved than he was initially, which can only be a good thing if his recent performances are any indication of what he’s capable of contributing.
As for Robson’s combative personality – well, it’s nothing personal, according to Watson, and might even be a good thing for the Whitecaps.
“It’s a more British thing that he’s bringing – it’s something I’m used to having come from England,” Watson said. “A lot of the players there are more verbal and say exactly how they feel. I think it’s something we lacked is that little bit of grit on the field – someone who’ll tell everyone exactly what to do.
“It’s something you can’t take personally. On the field, he’s going to tell you how he feels, but off the field he’s one of the greatest guys.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for Goal.com Canada.