Something quite peculiar happened this weekend for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Darren Mattocks and Gershon Koffie were omitted from the starting lineup. And it wasn’t due to an injury or an international call up or some such unavoidable circumstance.
It was because head coach Martin Rennie decided there were better options available.
There was a time not so long ago with this Whitecaps squad that such a decision would be unthinkable.
But, thanks to some strong drafting in recent seasons, and some savvy free agent pickups, there’s some flexibility when it comes to team selection. Players can be added in or dropped based on form, or simply for tactical reasons. If counter-attacking is the approach for a given match, perhaps Mattocks plays. If a team is going to sit in its own half, perhaps the towering Tom Heinemann can make things happen in a tight game.
“In the final third we’ve got a lot better options than we had before,” Rennie told Goal.com on Tuesday. “Heinemann with his height and aggression is different to what we had before and also with Kekuta [Manneh] and Erik Hurtado we’ve got a different level of pace in the wide areas which we never had before.
“So I think all those things combined gives us a lot of potential to create chances and a lot of potential to score goals and we just have to keep improving on that. So far we’ve been scoring in all the games we’ve played.”
And that’s without mentioning this weekend’s goalscorer, Corey Hertzog. The 22-year-old made his full Whitecaps debut and popped up with what would eventually be the equalizer in a 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes.
He’s been scoring like mad in reserve matches and before that, preseason games, and offers a different sort of option.
“With our team at the moment, we’re creating quite a lot of chances, so the more players we’ve got on the field like that, who we feel can take a chance and get us a goal, the better our team becomes,” Rennie said when asked about Hertzog. “In the past, we really needed more strikers that were able to create something out of nothing on their own – maybe break away on their own or something like that.
"But now, because our team has much more possession of the ball and it's creating more chances and it's forward more and the ball’s in the box more, then I think it suits players like Corey and others that we’ve got much more than it did in the past.”
As for the players that were left out this weekend, there’s still a way back for them, according to the coach.
“I think it’s a message for everyone in the squad,” Rennie said of dropping Mattocks and Koffie. “If you’re doing well in training, if you’re doing well in reserve games – if you’re putting the most effort you can possibly put in, then you’ve got a chance to play.
“I don’t think it was anything negative against Gersh or Darren and I think instantly when you saw Gersh’s performance when he came on in the game, he had a big impact on it and helped us quite a lot," he added.
“Rather than see it as a negative against either of those players, I think it’s just a positive sign for the whole squad that when you’re putting everything you can into the game you get rewarded for that.”