Martin MacMahon: Whitecaps back under-fire coach Rennie

Vancouver head coach Martin Rennie is facing heavy criticism in some quarters after failing to win the Voyageurs Cup and starting the 2013 season slowly, but his players back him.
VANCOUVER, B.C. – Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie has come under fire in some quarters for his side’s failure to hoist the Voyageurs Cup, blowing two one-goal leads against the Montreal Impact Wednesday night to lose on the away goals rule with a 2-2 aggregate scoreline.

But it seems the Scottish tactician still has the backing of his players, with several senior members voicing their support for their coach on Thursday after a training session at the University of British Columbia.

“Massive amounts of confidence,” centre back Andy O’Brien responded when asked how the players felt about their coach given the criticism following the cup defeat. “We can’t let things affect us that are going on outside. The one thing thing I would say, the feeling is, the last two games we’ve been beaten five, six nil – that hasn’t been the case.

“So, we’ve just got to stick together, dust ourselves off, because we’ve got a very big game against New York [Red Bulls on Saturday].”

Nigel Reo-Coker, who has regularly worn the armband this season in the absence of the injured Jay DeMerit, also backed Rennie.

“It’s still there,” Reo-Coker said of the team’s confidence in its coach. “Martin’s job is to be a manager. I don’t think any player can have an opinion – we’re not here to be managers, we’re here to be players. The manager makes decisions, and he has his reasons why he does certain things, and we’re not here to question that.”

One area in particular that Rennie has been facing criticism over is his team’s apparent inability to defend set pieces. Blowing leads late is also becoming somewhat of an unhappy trend.

Goalkeeper Brad Knighton, however, called on individuals to take accountability rather than the coaching staff which put together defensive tactics for set pieces.

“We go over it every day, almost, and every week we’re prepping for the next game and going over [our opponent’s] set pieces,” Knighton said. “We get clips, we draw stuff up on boards, we see charts, we go over it in training with players – it comes down to us not being able to effectively mark and tactically mark where we need to.

“That’s accountability and that comes down to the desire to win the ball beside the other person, and that shows a lot of how we are as a team.”

Knighton then went on to call on his teammates to get a bit more physical in defensive situations and use their bodies to disrupt header attempts and generally throw opponents off in vital positions.

“I think we’re soft at times,” Knighton said. “We don’t get enough into people to throw them off. Maybe they don’t get the header, maybe we get a nudge here or there – it comes down to us needing to go man for man and taking accountability and obviously it hasn’t happened.”

As for the coach himself, Rennie is confident that the ownership group will give him time to turn things around – his side sits second from the bottom in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.

“We obviously have to pick things up in MLS and get good results but, no, I feel confident about [my job security],” Rennie said. “That's not the kind of thing you want to wake up thinking about, you just have to focus on what you have to do to win and what you have to do well and that's where my head is at.”

Rennie and his Whitecaps will get a chance to claim their first MLS road win of the 2013 season against the Red Bulls on Saturday, but they will be without a number of players due to injury, suspension and international call-ups.

Reo-Coker is out due to yellow card accumulation, Darren Mattocks was called up to Jamaica and Gershon Koffie is out with a leg injury suffered Wednesday in a collision with Felipe.

Brad Rusin is also a doubt due to a quad problem suffered in training this week. DeMerit and Omar Salgado remain out with long-term Achilles tendon and foot problems, respectively.