Martin MacMahon: Whitecaps coach Rennie under fire

Things haven't been going well for the Vancouver Whitecaps lately. As a result, for the first time in his tenure, head coach Martin Rennie's decisions are being openly questioned.
Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie experienced something new this week.

For the first time in his tenure in Vancouver, the Scottish tactician’s decision making has been openly questioned by the mainstream. Not just by bloggers and on social media, but by sports radio personalities as well as pundits from the city’s biggest newspapers.

Yes, Rennie’s decision to perform open heart surgery on the Whitecaps midseason last year ruffled a few feathers about town, especially when it backfired nearly costing his side a playoff berth, but there was very much a split camp then.

Some thought Rennie royally screwed up a winning formula, while others preached patience, suggesting that in time the moves would prove beneficial.

But now, with the Whitecaps struggling in Major League Soccer play with no wins from their last five games after winning two to start the season, and an unconvincing 3-2 win over lower-tier FC Edmonton on Wednesday thanks to a generous call from referee Silviu Petrescu, the questions are being asked.

To read the newspapers, blogs and – yes, to glance at the comments below some of those pieces – it seems most everybody in this city thinks they know how to do Rennie’s job better than he does.

That there are issues in front of goal is brutally obvious. Not much has changed in that regard since Rennie’s arrival. This club has been terrible at putting the ball in the net for the entire duration of its MLS life.

But Rennie has made this team very good defensively. There’s something to be said about that.

Now, though, he needs to find a way to either get his forwards scoring, or find someone who can score goals in this league.

Designated Player Kenny Miller has looked excellent this season, but one must wonder how much of a role the 33-year-old Scot will be able to play this season with what appears to be a troublesome hamstring injury. He is set to be in contention for Saturday’s match against FC Dallas after spending time in the United Kingdom with his wife, who was having a child, but can he really be depended on to carry this offense?

The big creative signing of the summer was Daigo Kobayashi, but the once-capped Japanese international has looked like a bit of a luxury player. He’s fun to watch, but since his first two matches he’s played an increasingly peripheral role.

It’s difficult to say whether he’s being marked out of matches or whether he’s simply not taking enough initiative, but as a 30-year-old veteran, Kobayashi is expected to contribute in a big way and hasn’t really done that during this winless skid.

Against FC Edmonton on Wednesday he looked completely disinterested, and apart from a memorable occasion when he embarrassed an FC Edmonton defender, he appeared anonymous.

But where does the solution lie? Rennie has tried a few things.

He’s been juggling his lineup – he hasn’t played the same starting XI in consecutive matches at all this season – but all that seems to have done is confused players and thrown off any chance of developing any rhythm or chemistry.

Yes, Jay DeMerit’s Achilles tendon rupture and Miller’s hamstring injury have forced his hand, but there have been several occasions when Rennie has made a number of unforced changes to the detriment of team performance, most notably last weekend when he played the likes of Tom Heinemann, Erik Hurtado and Matt Watson ahead of Darren Mattocks, Gershon Koffie and Camilo.

Mattocks and Koffie have not reached expectations so far this season, but at some point Rennie has to find a way to get these players going. Persisting with Hurtado, who often gives up possession and has the decision making skills of, well, a rookie, doesn’t seem like a sustainable option.

Perhaps given time, Hurtado can develop into a more effective player, but this weekend may be the match to get the 22-year-old from Santa Clara out of the firing line.

This week, Rennie was blunt in his description of how things can go for players if they don’t perform.

“One minute you can be there, going along, getting a chance here and there, and if you don’t take it, that could even be the end of your career,” Rennie said. “So guys need to realize that.”

Depending on how things go this weekend against FC Dallas and over the coming weeks, that’s some advice the coach who claims he never reads articles about his team might wish to take heed of himself.