The Whitecaps have qualified for the playoffs and is the first Canadian team to do so in the MLS. They've completed a drastic turn around from being bottom feeders last season. Yet Martin Rennie and Co. have still yet to receive their final grade for the season. And it's starting to look grim.
You know, when someone is about to tell you a bit of bad news, they normally begin and sometimes end it with a compliment, or at least lead you in by saying something nice?
Okay, well the Whitecaps have had a fantastic turnaround from last season where they were the doormat of the entire league. We've clinched a playoff spot, still have a game left against a very strong Real Salt Lake to find some form, and still have some quality young players like Omar Salgado, Darren Mattocks, and Gershon Koffie who look to be ready to step into the spotlight.
There. I've said the nice bit. Now for the criticisms.
I've been reluctant to criticize Kenny Miller, and to a lesser extent Barry Robson. They're both new to the city and the league, and deserved some time to settle in prior to expecting the best from them.
Robson even showed a few moments of brilliance and fans were whispering that he could be one of the dominant centre midfielders in the MLS. Unfortunately, Barry Robson's poor performances are outnumbering his good ones, and instead of working his ass off to overcome a dip in form, he will flail about, scream at the officials (and sometimes teammates) and saunter back into position, sometimes while the opposition team is busy counter-attacking, as we saw versus Portland. No more was this attitude evident than versus Portland tonight. In once instance, he felt he was fouled, lost the ball, and stood there looking like he was trying to take flight as the Timbers ran past him, and had a good counter opportunity, outnumbering the scrambling Whitecap defenders. Previous to that, on a freekick from 35 yards out, Robson blasted the ball into the wall, and then lazily jogged back as a 4-on-2 counter attack turned into a 5-on-2 due to his complete and utter lack of effort. Certainly one of his worst performances for the Blue-and-White.
Miller, meanwhile, failed to really contribute to the game. Sure, the team creativity was lacking, once again, so you can only blame a poacher so much. However, when he did get on or near the ball, he failed to do anything positive. He bumbled first touches out of play, passed the ball out of dangerous areas, or just plainly failed to beat any defenders with speed, technique, intelligence, or any other skill useful to a footballer. There was more than one occasion, specifically in the latter part of the second half where the ball would get near him, and instead of running onto it or at least pressuring the defender to make a quick one touch play, he stopped moving and just allowed the play to go by him. He could have been gassed, and this was probably also Rennie's fault for not bringing him out with one of the teams substitutions.
Now, these two are not the only ones blame for the loss against Portland. Camilo was a complete and utter waste. His selfishness on the park is infuriating. He vastly overestimates his own abilities, and he tries over and over to take on player after player rather than stopping at just one. His set piece delivery is bordering on comical, and he built such a reputation for embellishment he never gets the 50/50 shouts for a penalty kick. A player like Camilo is only useful if he's scoring. A player like Camilo never just has a hard working, gritty performance where he really digs in and contributes to a team win. He either pops in a goal or two, as we saw versus Chivas, and he's a hero, or he just keep dribbling into large packs of defenders with his head staring straight down at his toes.
Koffie had an okay, but not his usual powerful game, DeMerit was sloppy at times, and everyone else on the pitch decided lumping the ball up to the pint sized Brazillian and the lethargic Scotsman was a great idea.
Meanwhile, Dane Richards, who just scored 2 goals for Jamaica, and 1 for the Whitecaps in his last 3 games, and is certainly the Whitecaps most in-form player got to sit on the bench for the first hour of the match.
Darren Mattocks, the team scoring leader and most electric player also was made to sit and watch until the last 23 minutes.
I'm not sure what Martin Rennie was thinking. Maybe he thought that Miller looked good prior to being injured versus Chivas (which he was,) but it's hard to overlook the Jamaican duo considering all the facts. It appears that Martin Rennie has hitched his trailer to the Scots.
It was always a bit of a gamble.
Rennie took an average squad that was hitting above it's weight and tried to turn it into a squad that would compete for the MLS Cup. In doing so, he jettisoned some good but not great players like Le Toux and Hassli, sold Chiumiento, and tried to bring in some players who he thought would be better.
The rest of the season didn't matter, really. There was bound to be a feeling out period for the new players, and we were bound for some bad luck after seemingly every bounce went for the Whitecaps in the early part of the year. Martin Rennie made these moves for a playoff run. Don't get fooled by any other double speak. Selling Chiumiento and signing Robson and Miller is not move for the future of the club. It is a move for right now.
And now we have one games in Salt Lake City to regain some form, and then it's a one-off against the reigning champions at the Home Depot Centre. That's all that's left for Martin Rennie's summer signings to make an impact.
Rennie has a very difficult decision to make in Salt Lake and in LA.
He can go with status quo, and throw out Miller, Robson, and Camilo again and hope they find some chemistry and form in a hurry and turn into the signings he wanted them to be, or he can move on, and give the youngster the reigns. A starting lineup that includes Mattocks and Salgado up top, with a midfield consisting of Teibert, Koffie, Watson, and Richards would certainly send a message that he's willing to move forward. This likely means yet another Designated Player buyout of one of the aging Scots and would certainly lead to a reluctance from the Whitecaps ownership group the next time he comes calling for a million dollar Designated Player.
I'm certainly not calling for Rennie's head. I think he's done an admirable job in bringing respectability back to the club and he is still learning about the league. However, if the Scottish DP's fail to catch lightning in a bottle, he will need to show he can part ways as easily with his own failed signings as with his predecessors, or his leash will have gotten extremely short next season with many supporters and likely some owners.