Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie isn't letting pressure from critics influence how he picks his squad for the 2013 season.Give Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie credit – he’s not afraid of telling Canadians to pack their bags if they aren’t up to scratch – as evidenced by his decision to cut midfielder Jacob Lensky, wide player Jaime Peters and defender Andres Fresenga from the club’s preseason camp on Tuesday.
It would have been easy to sign one of them for a small salary to appease the critics who say the Whitecaps don’t care about fielding Canadian players, but Rennie has opted to send the trio of trialists packing after feeling they wouldn’t help the club on the field.
Vancouver native Lensky has been training with the club for about six months after “retiring” twice from European clubs in recent years due to personal issues. As a left footed 24-year-old with experience in the Dutch Eredivisie, he looked like a player who would make a natural fit if both sides could agree to financial terms, but despite his extended time with the club, he didn’t make the grade.
“We have helped him in terms of getting his fitness back and I think he has made quite a lot of progress,” head coach Martin Rennie said of Lensky on Vancouver radio station TEAM 1410. “But we haven’t seen that progress develop to the point where we really think he’s going to make an impact on our roster.”
The decision to boot Peters was perhaps less of a surprise – the former Canadian international and Ipswich Town winger showed up for camp looking a few pounds overweight.
That’s never ideal for a professional athlete, especially one trying out for Rennie, who expects attitude and a professional approach to personal fitness from each of his players.
“He came in a little bit unfit and he has developed in that regard, but we didn’t see him quite getting back to the level that we know he was at before,” Rennie said. “That made it difficult for him.”
Fresenga is perhaps the player fans will be most disappointed to see go – he looked a star against Brek Shea during Canada’s ultimately unsuccessful London 2012 Olympic qualifying campaign, but carried an injury in preseason which never allowed him to show off his full capabilities.
“Difficult one because he was injured for part of the preseason camp,” Rennie said of the decision to take a pass on Fresenga. “But we have seen him play and we have been able to evaluate him based on the opinions of people at the Canadian national team and other things like that and obviously our own decisions.”
Ultimately, Rennie felt the trio wouldn’t make the team better – so their place of birth wasn’t relevant.
“That’s the thing that makes it even more difficult,” Rennie said of making the cuts. “This offseason has seen so much time and energy spent trying to add Canadians to the roster, from all different levels – from younger players to veteran players.
“So far we’ve not managed to do as well as we would like there, but we are pleased with the progress we’re seeing from some of the Canadian players within our system, so that’s encouraging. But at the same time we have to build the strongest team that we can, and we have to do that regardless of where the players come from.”
Victoria native Simon Thomas, who came up through the Whitecaps residency program before playing in England for a season, remains on trial, as does 22-year-old Mississauga native Evan James, who played with the Montreal Impact in 2012.
The pair recently received their first two senior caps for Canada against Denmark and the United States, with Thomas keeping a clean sheet against the U.S. in a 0-0 draw.
So, there’s still hope for some more Canadian flavour on this Whitecaps squad – and if either of those two make it, we know it will be because they’re good enough to make a difference.