MLS: Vancouver Enlists Creativity With Pace For Play-Off Return

Written by Ian Thomson
(L to R) Whitecaps’ president Bob Lenarduzzi, draftees Erik Hurtado and Kekuta Manneh, and head coach Martin Rennie (Photo: Ian Thomson)

INDIANAPOLIS – Vancouver Whitecaps entered its second Major League Soccer pre-season last year with a new head coach, Martin Rennie, and a stockpile of attacking weapons that looked set to bombard opponents. The regular season ended rather differently.

Rennie’s side netted just 35 goals in 34 games, fewer than all but two teams, though a sound defensive record carried Vancouver into the Western Conference wildcard game at Los Angeles Galaxy. Landon Donovan’s controversial penalty edged the defending champion closer to its second consecutive title with a 2-1 win.

The overhaul of Vancouver’s front line gathered steam during last week’s MLS SuperDraft when Rennie selected Gambian U-20 international forward Kekuta Manneh and 22-year-old striker Erik Hurtado with the fourth and fifth picks overall. Adding creativity with pace has been the Scot’s focus as the Whitecaps seek an immediate return to the post-season.

“You build your team from the back,” said Rennie during last week’s college draft. “Now we want to be more exciting going forward. We want to be more dangerous.”

Front line issues seemed unimaginable 11 months ago when Vancouver swept to four shutout victories to clinch the pre-season Disney Pro Soccer Classic tournament in Orlando. Eric Hassli, Sebastien Le Toux, Davide Chiumiento, Camilo Sanvezzo, Darren Mattocks, Omar Salgado, Long Tan and Lee Nguyen all chipped in with impressive minutes.

Nguyen, Tan, Le Toux and Hassli were allowed to leave by the end of the summer, and Chiumiento returned to his native Switzerland.

“With those attacking players, there was a little bit of a lack of pace,” Rennie told The Soccer Observer. “We didn’t necessarily look at them as long-term opportunities or prospects for us. Now with these guys, we think that they are.”

Rennie added his countryman Kenny Miller to the attack last July, but the Scottish international striker contributed just two goals in 14 games after arriving from English Championship side Cardiff City. The 33-year-old was dropped to the substitutes’ bench for Vancouver’s season-ending defeat in Los Angeles in November. Rennie maintains that Vancouver’s highest-paid player still has a major role to play.

“I think he’ll be a much stronger player for us this year,” Rennie said. “He needs pre-season, which he’s going to get. He’ll be a key player for us.”

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Oct. 22, 2012 — Uninspired Whitecaps Stumble Into MLS Play-Offs