Rennie Game 1
Photo by Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

The man with the plan

In the eight years since Martin Rennie began coaching soccer in North America, he has jumped up four leagues – winnings titles at each stop along the way. It has been a rapid rise through the coaching ranks for the Scotsman, but certainly not one that has been unplanned. That’s because Rennie always has a plan.

Strength of mind

August 9, 2011, brought the next challenge for Rennie in his prospering career, as he was named head coach of Vancouver Whitecaps FC. At 36-years-old, Rennie is one of the youngest coaches in Major League Soccer (MLS). Like many coaches, he had been pursuing a playing career, but a knee injury cut those days short. With that, however, came an opportunity to pursue another path in soccer.

“I have always loved soccer,” tells Rennie. “As soon as my playing career was over, I looked at coaching as a way to stay involved.”

While attaining his coaching licenses, Rennie found himself outside of the soccer world, working in the software and pharmaceutical industries – time that has become integral to his current work. “Those experiences taught me about how important communication is,” explains Rennie. “Communication is a key cog in my coaching philosophy.”

Though he grew up in the United Kingdom, he began to establish his roots in North America at the tail-end of his playing days. That eventually led to his first head coaching job in 2005 with Cascade Surge of the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Premier Development League (PDL). In his one season, he took the Surge to unprecedented heights, winning a USL PDL Northwest Division title, a US Open Cup berth, and a playoff run to the PDL Western Conference Final. He credits his early success with the Surge to “fresh ideas”.

Step by step

His impressive coaching debut earned him a step up the ladder to USL Second Division expansion club Cleveland City Stars. In his two seasons in Ohio, he was twice named the league’s Coach of the Year while leading the team to the USL-2 championship in 2008. Like every step during his journey, his success in Cleveland was no accident – it was the result of a clear plan. “In my second year I tried to get my players to buy into a system that would help our team win, and move the players on to the next level.”

The players weren’t the only ones moving to the next level, as Rennie became head coach of Carolina Railhawks in the USL First Division. It didn’t take long for him to put his stamp on the team. The Railhawks finished second in the standings in his first season, and then won their division in 2010. Last season, Rennie’s squad claimed the North American Soccer League (NASL) regular season title, outscoring their opponents by a total of 24 goals over the course of the season.

Now in Vancouver, he sees a lot of parallels from Carolina. The Railhawks had only made the playoffs once in their first two years and twice finished in eighth place before he got there, but Rennie propelled them to three straight playoff appearances, improving on their performance each season with a second place finish in 2009, a first place finish in their division in 2010, and a first overall finish last year. “Changing the culture was key for me in Carolina, and I feel that after last year, Vancouver players – although talented – need a change of culture to get accustom to winning.”

Great Scot

Scotland has produced some of the greatest soccer coaches in the world, from the likes of Everton bench boss David Moyes to Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. “The Scottish Football Association coaching courses are extremely tough to pass, which makes the level of coaching that much better,” explained Rennie. “Managers such as Moyes and Ferguson are extremely organized and get their teams to buy into a team first concept.”

Having retired from playing early on, Rennie got an advanced start in receiving his UEFA “A” and “B” coaching licenses. “It was one of the greatest learning experiences in my life. Being the youngest person in the course and having David Moyes as my tutor for the course was truly phenomenal.”

Now he’s building his own profile as a head coach. He prides himself on being an outside-the-box thinker who is “always trying to come up with fresh and new ideas”, and he fully intends to continue that with the ‘Caps. “Our goal is to be a better team and to improve in all areas of the pitch. This is a building process, but I expect our team to be competitive every match.”

Though preseason left little time to settle, he’s been enjoying Vancouver. “I have really fallen in love with the city in the short time I have been here. At first it was a tough transition for me and my family, as the climate is a bit different in Vancouver and there’s a lot more traffic here than there was in Carolina, but the scenery is much nicer here.”

There’s been one other thing that he’s noticed since his arrival. “From my short time in BC, I have seen that the people who live here are proud people,” said Rennie. “It’s our goal as a coaching staff to give the people of this city a team they can be proud of.”

And for that, he no doubt has a plan.