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  • If Vancouver chooses Rennie, why? Why now?


    There are <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/IndyweekSports/status/100758093062864897">some</a> <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/MikeMartignago/status/100761312602234880">pretty</a> <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/aftncanada/status/100762859054694400">solid</a> <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/JeremiahOshan/status/100725739653050368">reports</a> coming out that <a href="http://www.canadiansoccernews.com/content.php?2102-Rumours-Swirl-as-Whitecaps">tomorrow's mysterious Vancouver Whitecaps press conference</a> will in fact be to announce a new head coach, specifically the Carolina RailHawks' Martin Rennie. It's still somewhat up in the air whether Rennie will start immediately or finish out the North American Soccer League season with Carolina first, but it does seem that he's on his way. If that's the case, the Whitecaps management team should answer two critical questions: "Why?" and "Why now?"[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

    First, on the "Why?" front, some of the reasons are obvious. Rennie is widely seen as a rising star on the North American coaching circuit, and one who's had success on a variety of levels. He's only 36, but he's already won a league championships (with the USL-2's Cleveland City Stars in 2008), made the league finals another time (with the RailHawks in 2010), and claimed two coach of the year awards (with Cleveland). He's shown an ability to turn a roster around and get a new, diverse group of players to gel together in cohesive fashion, something he did with Carolina in 2010, and that could be an absolutely critical skill in Vancouver. The Whitecaps' current roster is still very much a work in progress, and will need plenty of revamping before they can successfully compete at the MLS level. Rennie may not have MLS experience, but he's been a hot MLS coaching prospect for a while (the Montreal Impact apparently also were sniffing around him), and he certainly has a promising background.

    However, just about every qualification in that list applies to the Whitecaps' initial MLS coach, and the man they so <a href="http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/top/blog/canada/post/With-Thordarson-firing-are-Whitecaps-on-TFC-s-p?urn=top-358832">recently and unceremoniously fired</a>: Teitur Thordarson. Thordarson had coached at a wide range of levels before coming to MLS, including stints with club teams from Sweden to Norway to Iceland and the Estonian national team, and he won two USL-1 championships with the Whitecaps (and made the USSF-2 semifinals with them in 2010). Moreover, he showed a tremendous ability to achieve results under difficult circumstances, particularly in the 2008 season and the 2010 run to the semifinals, both of which featured dramatic and repeated roster changes (in 2010 in particular, as that was a young team primarily focusing on building for MLS at the expense of immediate results). Despite predominately poor results in MLS competition this season, many of which weren't necessarily his fault, Thordarson also had the Whitecaps well on their way to winning the Voyageurs Cup <a href="http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/top/blog/canada/post/Gone-in-60-minutes-Whitecaps-lead-erased-by-th?urn=top-357671">before weather intervened</a>.

    About the only logical reason for Thordarson's firing, which was an incredibly unconventional move for an expansion team that was generally expected to be terrible, was that the team was looking to go in a different direction, perhaps with a MLS veteran. Tom Soehn, who stepped in as head coach in addition to his role as director of soccer operations, fit that bill; he had plenty of MLS experience, even if all of it wasn't terribly positive. Now, they've apparently flopped back to someone who fits the qualifications of the old head man. It may be that the team's management staff thinks Rennie has something Thordarson didn't, but it just seems like a curious move to return to a direction you just went away from.

    The "Why now?" is equally as important. If Rennie's taking over right away, that's the third coach in one season for an expansion team, which is incredibly rare. You can make the case that Soehn was only an interim seat-filler, but he's presided over this team since the end of May, or for more time than Thordarson got at the MLS level. If Rennie is just being announced as the head coach for 2012, that avoids the dubious distinction of having three head coaches in a year, but that's mostly a semantic argument and doesn't really lessen the turmoil. It's worth noting that coaching instability isn't the greatest thing at any level, particularly in a sport where so much comes down to what styles and tactics any particular coach favours and what roles they see for different players. Changing head men frequently results in chaos and sets a team back significantly, as rosters have to be completely reworked to fit the new guy's style—and that hasn't exactly worked out all that well for <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_FC#History">Canada's other MLS team</a>.

    If Rennie was always the man the Whitecaps' management had in mind, fine, but it would seem curious that they couldn't lure him away sooner. The "coach in waiting" arrangement, if that's what it turns out to be, is also an odd one, and one that <a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/collegefootball/story/West-Virginia-head-coach-resigns-amid-scandal-061011">hasn't ended well in many other circumstances</a>. Like every other move, this one should be judged by the results, and there's definitely a chance it could turn out quite well for Vancouver. It just seems like an unusual decision at an unusual time. Given the oddities of the Whitecaps' 2011 season, maybe that's to be expected.

    [Note: This piece originally had incorrect information about the USSF-2 finish in 2010. Carolina finished first in their division (with Vancouver second) during the regular season, but didn't win the league playoff; they lost to the Puerto Rico Islanders in the final, and Puerto Rico knocked off Vancouver in the semifinals. It's been updated with the correct info. - Andrew]

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