Looking back on the season as a whole, Vancouver Whitecaps FC made major strides in 2012 after a dire start to life in MLS the season before as the league’s last-place team.
By qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs, the ‘Caps became the first Canadian club to do so. Still, after an explosive start, Vancouver faded after a midseason shuffle as new head coach Martin Rennie sought to put his stamp on the team by bringing in two fellow Scots – Kenny Miller and Barry Robson – as Designated Players.
While the moves appeared to backfire, the ‘Caps put the scare into LA Galaxy in the playoffs with an early goal from Darren Mattocks, but eventually lost 2-1 to put an end to their first playoff experience.
MLSsoccer.com: Given this was your first season coaching in MLS, what was the biggest challenge for you, and what was the biggest difference between coaching in this league and coaching at the lower levels?
Rennie: One of the differences is just the number of people that are involved in the team, in the process and in the organization. Previously, it would be me and an assistant coach, the players and maybe a physio. We would get together, build our team and we would decide what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it.
That’s a lot different than MLS – there’s a lot more staff involved, more players – on a roster of 30 players, there’s probably 10 guys that are hardly ever going to play. So there’s 10 players right away you’re trying to manage in a different way…
Within the league as well there’s a lot of restrictions about how you can sign players, who you can sign, and when you can sign them. Whereas in the past I’m used to pretty much having a lot more freedom to build the team how I saw fit. You’d have a budget, but then you’d go to work to make it happen. So, it’s been good – learning to do that in a different way – but it’s been pretty fun.
MLSsoccer.com: In terms of what you’ve done as a coach, where does qualifying this team for the MLS Cup playoffs rank for you?
Rennie: I think it was a big achievement, but winning championships and winning league titles (at lower levels) is a big achievement too. At every level, coaching is difficult. You might say the standard is lower at the lower league – yes, it is – but you have different types of players, a smaller budget, you have less resources – the other teams have similar budgets, some of them have more and some of them have bigger resources and some of them are more established.
Every level is a challenge and every level is hard, but we made a really good step this year and there are plenty of teams that would love to have been in the playoffs that weren’t, and there’s teams that have never made the MLS Cup playoffs and coaches that have never got a team to the playoffs, so it’s not as simple as people think.
MLSsoccer.com: Not to dwell on the second-half struggles, but what do you attribute to the drop in form from the early part of the season to the stretch run?
Rennie: When you’re at that point when you’re at the verge of achieving something for the first time – the club’s never ever (qualified for the playoffs) before. It was a massive goal for the club at the start of the season. It’s an interesting psychological discussion. It’s just sometimes that last little bit it’s hard to get there. So it’s like this season there were a couple of times where we were in that similar position where we could have taken a stride forward to winning a particular game for example, and we didn’t quite make it.
I think one of the things this season was, like I say, reaching those playoffs. We were so close for so long, and we just psychologically had to go a little bit further to improve our mentality. In any season you have ups and downs – in this season, some of those downs were in the second half, and then it maybe got better at the end there.
If you look at LA Galaxy for example…their season was almost the reverse in some ways, where they started off really poorly but then improved and got better and better. When everybody reflects on their season, they say, ‘oh, what an incredible season,’ but if their’s was in a slightly different order then you wouldn’t look at it like that. Houston had a bad spell for quite a while and then came out of it. Every team in MLS has a bad spell at some point. I just think, partly, we were on that run where we were pretty much set for the playoffs, but we didn’t quite get over the hump until later than we would have liked.
MLSsoccer.com: One area in which the team showed no improvement was its ability to score goals – this season Whitecaps FC scored just 35, the lowest total of teams qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs, and the same total the team scored last season.
What was the biggest reason for the low total and how do you plan to address that over the offseason?
Rennie: We need players that are consistent in scoring goals. We need to create more chances with more creativity in midfield and also athleticism to be further up the field and getting more balls into the box more often. Also, if you look at this season, Camilo, who was the top scorer last season didn’t score as many this season. Second of all, Darren Mattocks, who ended up being top scorer, missed almost half the season. One of the guys who was showing a lot of promise and was really helping us with his attacking form from the left was Omar [Salgado] who was getting past people, putting balls into the box – hurting people with his pace – he missed a massive part of the season through injury.
So, a lot of the players we would rely upon to score goals or create chances weren’t available to us as much as we would have liked. Then, on top of that, we brought in an attacking player in Kenny Miller who – it really took him time to get up to speed, and I think the benefit of him having a preseason and being with the club longer we’ll see the benefit of next season.
So, I feel confident we can improve in that area. Last season the team had quite a few penalty kicks – this season we had one in the entire season, which is a very low number. If you have five penalty kicks and you convert those, then your goalscoring ratio goes up considerably.
MLSsoccer.com: In terms of adding to this team over the offseason, specifically the first XI, where do you see feel you’ll look to add?
Rennie: We’re working on certainly adding a player (to replace Dane Richards on the right wing). But it’s not just about the starting XI, it’s about the squad of players that’s going to contribute. We can improve throughout the squad in almost every position, but maybe a bit more height and power in the forward position could help us, a little bit more creativity in midfield could be important.