With the Whitecaps failing to make the playoffs, there is much speculation about head coach Martin Rennie's future. Martin MacMahon weighs up the pros and cons of making a change.The Vancouver Whitecaps won't be in the playoffs this year, and now that there's been a few days for that to sink in, it's time to start asking some tough questions about what's next for the Pacific Northwest club.
Namely, the big question and perhaps the most pressing issue is what to do with head coach Martin Rennie.
Do you sack him or back him?
Is he even under contract or has his contract expired? We don't know this, as the club has refused to provide details on the term of his deal, and if there were any extension triggers that too is out of the public domain.
Given that he just started working with the club following the club's nightmare 2011 season, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he signed a three-year deal then.
Others have suggested he signed a two-year guaranteed deal with some sort of option component beyond that.
It's all speculation, but we're left with little choice here but to throw the possibilities around.
What isn't speculation is that Rennie's future is very much up in the air, despite his team achieving more points than the 43 attained last season – and this with one match still left to play.
But the Western Conference has improved this year, and in the words of club president Bob Lenarduzzi, his club has stagnated.
“The competition in the division – it's clear for everyone to see – other clubs upgraded, as did we, but just not enough,” Lenarduzzi told Vancouver radio station TEAM 1040 on Tuesday afternoon. “Too many points dropped at key times. “I would say that we probably maintained where we were, but most people would view it as having regressed because we haven't made the playoffs.”
But what does that mean for Rennie? Is he a goner? Lenarduzzi didn't back his coach on Tuesday during that interview, simply saying that a decision either way would come soon.
“With the season concluding on Sunday, that's an area, much like other areas, including players, that we'll need to determine which way we go,” Lenarduzzi said of the coaching position. “It's been an ongoing assessment as the season's gone on. We'll take this time in between now and next week to discuss the coaching situation internally and more than likely have a decision sometime early next week.”
So which is the best way forward? There are pros and cons. Whenever the possibility of sacking Rennie has come up, the default reply is, “you don't want to be TFC.” It's a dime-a-dozen phrase in this city and people say it for a reason. If in doubt, continuity is the safe bet.
Plenty of coaches have had a rough couple of years before eventually finding more consistent success. The argument in the Scotsman's favour can also be made by the fact that two big contracts he had no involvement in signing are set to expire – Joe Cannon and Jay DeMerit. That will mean if Rennie does stick around, he can finally have virtually a full squad of his own players, apart from some promising youngsters and a few squad players which he inherited. With Lee Young-Pyo retiring, that's a further couple of hundred thousand to work with.
There are legitimate arguments to give Rennie another chance, but equally there are some worrying issues about the tactician.
For the third straight season, the wheels of the bus have come off at the end for him. The 2011 season in Carolina with the RailHawks ended with a nosedive for his squad, and he's mirrored that level of crunch time chaos with the Whitecaps over the past two seasons.
It seems when the best teams are finding their top gear, Rennie's teams fall apart.
Another issue is his ability to evaluate young players, his willingness to trust them, and his general ability to bring players with potential along.
Gershon Koffie and Darren Mattocks have both regressed this year, or at the very best spun their tires. Those two are potential impact players.
Kekuta Manneh probably wouldn't have started against the Seattle Sounders and bagged that hat-trick had it not been for the fact Mattocks and Miller were unavailable for selection – the Gambian got his chance due to the fact there was little in the way of alternatives, not due to some big faith move from Rennie.
Equally puzzling is the Russell Teibert situation. After being left to rot in the reserves last season, the 20-year-old has been brilliant for spells this year. He's slowed down alongside his teammates down this vital stretch, but it's difficult to imagine he couldn't have contributed more last season in MLS play had he been given a chance.
When most people who follow this team closely are asked about whether they'd show Rennie the door or sign him up for more, whatever their response, there's a long pause.
The decision to fire him, if it is made, is not an overly obvious choice. But it seems keeping him isn't either.