The "Rennie-sance" has begun.
As of this writing, new Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie, 36, is leading his team through an evaluation mini-camp that runs from November 2 to November 5. What Rennie hopes to achieve in the next few days is an understanding of the team he has inherited: their strengths, weaknesses and psychology.
After two days of the camp so far, Rennie is saying all the right things in pinpointing what needs to be done. There is of course a lot more to do to right the ship, but it seems like Rennie and the 'Caps are off to a great start.
Here are five issues that the Scotsman needs to sort out before next season starts.
On November 23, 2011 the Montreal Impact, MLS' 19th franchise, will get a chance to cherry-pick 10 players from across the league. Each existing team will be allowed to protect 11 players, with Generation Adidas and Homegrown Players automatically protected. The Impact will be permitted to pick one unprotected player from 10 teams.
For the Whitecaps, the rules automatically protect Omar Salgado, Michael Nanchoff, Russel Teibert, Philippe Davies, Nizar Khalfan and Brian Sylvestre. That is a good solid core of young players.
But it's open season on the rest of the 'Caps, and Rennie and his staff must take a good long look at the players he has at his disposal. Who can contribute in the coming season? Who can be salvaged if they had a rough season last year? How much salary room do they need to free up? Do you protect Mustapha Jarju?
It's also debatable as to whether the Impact will even select any player from a team that finished dead last in the league. That said, there's a lot of talent in the team that would be appealing to any new franchise, and I just have the feeling that the Impact would select a Whitecap just to spite them.
I will release my own list of whom to protect, but I'm quite eager to find out who Rennie believes has a future in the club.
In the days leading up to the Whitecaps' last game against Colorado, the Blue and White's fans started a twitter petition (#BigPhilmustplay)begging ex-head coach Tommy Soehn to play Canadian Philippe Davies.
The reasons for this were two-fold. First, Phil Davies was the only outfield player not to see a single minute of MLS play all season. Considering it was the end of a season with nothing left to play for and other young players like Long Tan were getting a chance to start, it would have been nice to see what Davies could do on an MLS pitch.
But Davies' exclusion was also more important because of the fact that, considering the Whitecaps were one of only two teams in the MLS at the time, they were fielding exactly zero Canadians on a regular basis after Russel Teibert fell to injury and Terry Dunfield was sent to Toronto.
It has been mentioned that there are a lot of talented Canadians in the Whitecaps' youth setup, but it was disturbing that they had a young Canadian already in the first team who apparently trained his arse off and yet did not even get a sniff of the pitch.
We shall see what Rennie does to rectify the lack of Canadian content on the field.
Signs are looking good though. In his latest interview after yesterday's training session, Rennie specifically mentioned Russel Teibert (pictured above) as a standout performer. Indeed, early in the season the young Canadian was one of the more impressive Whitecaps fielded, brimming with talent and drive. I, for one, expect to see him on the field with far more regularity next season.
It will be interesting to see if Davies can impress Rennie in a similar fashion.
In 2011, Swiss-Italian playmaker Davide Chiumiento was enigmatic to say the least. On his day, he was capable of brilliant technical showmanship, unlocking defenses with pin-point passing and breezing by his markers with the greatest of ease. The Whitecaps assists leader, Chiumiento also scored one of the best goals of the season with a snapshot against New York.
But the mercurial maestro was also capable of shocking displays of moodiness that affected both his own play and the games of those around him. When he wasn't in form, he looked dreadful.
Some would argue, myself included, that Chiumiento did not flourish under Tommy Soehn. It may be a matter of man management or tactics, but it was soon after Soehn came on that Chiumiento started his inconsistent play. Some reports from the locker room suggest that Soehn never communicated well with the lads, which is intriguing because in every interview since his troubles, Chiumiento always stressed that he wanted honest, straightforward communication between himself and his coach.
Martin Rennie comes into the Whitecaps organization with a reputation for honesty and direct straightforwardness which should play to Chiumiento's desires. But Rennie also released a nugget the other day which bodes well for the Maestro's future at the 'Caps.
Rennie stressed that he wanted to see more penetrating runs, more meaningful passes and more purposeful possession. Too often last season, we saw the 'Caps retain possession and just slow the play down, pinging the ball back and forth without penetrating opposing defenses. Under a setup like that, a direct player like Chiumiento would flounder.
But under Rennie's philosophy, the Swiss-Italian now has a chance to flourish. Indeed, in interviews with Chiumiento since the camp began, he has looked all smiles.
If all goes well, a free-flowing Davide Chiumiento has the potential to absolutely dominate the league next year. Let's see if Rennie can draw that performance out of him.
Gershon Koffie, the Whitecaps' young Ghanaian midfielder, shone last season. Possessing a great touch, physicality that allowed him to shield the ball well and excellent tactical nous, Koffie has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the league.
Sadly, one man cannot control a midfield on his own, and Koffie had found himself paired with ineffective midfield partners all season long. Terry Dunfield, Peter Vagenas, Alex Morfaw and Jeb Brovsky all proved either inexperienced or inadequate. John Thorrington produced some excellent performances towards the end of the season, but he has been battling injuries his entire career and it's debatable whether Rennie can count on him staying healthy next year.
Rennie must solve his midfield dilemma if he wants to succeed in the MLS next year. There have been suggestions that Mustapha Jarju, a failure up front, might be a decent midfielder. Perhaps Rennie should try him out as Koffie's partner. Perhaps Big Philippe Davies, long ignored by Tommy Soehn, will step up in training and earn a chance.
Or perhaps Rennie will dip into the transfer market and look for a good solid central midfielder, one who can play box-to-box possession football and harry his opponents.
However he does it, any improvement in the midfield will see the 'Caps flourish.
All season long, the Whitecaps defense was a work in progress. Injuries and ineffectiveness had seen the back four undergoing constant change, and it definitely showed as the 'Caps leaked goal after goal.
Towards the end of the season, though, stability was found. Carlyle Mitchel and Jay DeMerit were a formidable pair in central defense while Alain Rochat showed why he was one of the best left-backs in the league.
But one constant was the hole at right-back. At various times, we've seen Jonathan Leathers, Jeb Brovsky and even John Thorrington play in that poisition...fail.
Brovsky showed attacking promise, but he was a converted central midfielder and didn't have enough time to learn the position defensively. John Thorrington was also a converted midfielder and had the exact same problem. Leathers, the only one who knew the position, was maddeningly inconsistent.
Once Rennie plugs that hole, the Whitecaps defense will be effective.