It’s been 12 league matches for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012, and soon it will become apparent what head coach Martin Rennie considers to be his starting XI.
At the beginning of any coach’s tenure there’s generally a feeling out period when various formations and combinations are tried out.
Rennie had a short time to do this over two relatively light months in March and April, but didn’t have a full attacking group to choose from as Etienne Barbara, Darren Mattocks, Camilo and Atiba Harris all missed spells due to injury.
Then came May, a nightmare period which involved four Canadian Championship matches and four Major League Soccer games. It was a stretch that tested the squad’s depth and forced the Scottish tactician to factor squad rotation into his plans rather than simply choosing his best players for each match.
Now, though, that’s about to change. On Sunday the Whitecaps play their first match since the 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on May 26, as they host the Houston Dynamo at BC Place after a 13-day break.
That game begins a light June in which the club plays a very manageable four matches, three of which will be played at home.
And with virtually a full lineup to choose from – only Harris (knee surgery), Omar Salgado and Michael Boxall (international duty) will be unavailable – now it’s time to see who Rennie feels are his best players.
“A lot of that is dependent on the team doing well,” Rennie told Goal.com recently following a training session, when asked whether he would be looking to establish a consistent starting XI. “If the team comes out and wins, then usually the team will stay fairly similar. If there’s not a lot of games there’s no reason to really change it too much.
“That’s up to the players to stake their claim and keep their place, and the results will have a big impact on that.”
So who is in contention for a starting spot? The back five is essentially set in stone at this point: Joe Cannon in goal, Lee Young-Pyo at right fullback, Alain Rochat at left fullback, with captain Jay DeMerit and Martin Bonjour in the middle.
In midfield there are also questions about who is first choice, but the triumvirate of Jun Marques Davidson, Gershon Koffie and John Thorrington seems to be the go-to group. All three started against Toronto FC in the decisive second leg of the Canadian Championship final, and went on to keep their places against the Portland Timbers in the club’s last match before the two-week break.
In the attacking third though, it’s hard to say with certainty who is a guaranteed starter. Camilo and Sebastien Le Toux have generally been given the nod when fit, with both players being used as wide attackers, withdrawn forwards or out-and-out strikers at various points, but most often they’ve been played as the wide men, and there’s little reason to see why this will change.
Through the middle up top that leaves Eric Hassli, the club’s lone Designated Player (until the arrival of Barry Robson at the end of the month), yet Rennie has opted to use him more often from the bench of late – four of the Frenchman’s last six appearances were as a substitute.
Darren Mattocks is knocking on the door for a starting position after scoring his first MLS goal against the Timbers to salvage a point for the ‘Caps. Beyond that the Jamaican also looked dangerous against the Seattle Sounders on May 19 in his first-ever league start, generating a number of opportunities with his movement and pace without finding the target.
While it’s clear the speedy youngster isn’t the finished article just yet, his raw potential brings a dimension to Vancouver’s attack which Rennie will be tempted to use at every opportunity.
Barbara might be another option for Vancouver. The Maltese international was a surprise starter in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final, so that shows Rennie has faith in his former Carolina RailHawks charge. Whether that faith remains after Barbara’s relatively anonymous appearance in the match remains to be seen, however.
Another factor to consider is Davide Chiumiento. He’s played as a wide player, as a midfielder and as an attacking player right behind the strikers under Rennie.
He’s been in fine form in recent weeks and it’s conceivable the Swiss-Italian could play either wide right or wide left, with one of Camilo or Le Toux playing centrally.
So what will be the starting XI versus Houston? It’s difficult to say, but based on recent matches, a reasonable guess might be (right to left): Cannon; Lee, Bonjour, DeMerit, Rochat; Koffie, Davidson, Thorrington; Chiumiento, Le Toux, Camilo.
We’ll find out for sure on Sunday, but whoever gets the nod will need to take their chance with both hands, because the word “rotation” is out of the vocabulary for the foreseeable future.