At a press conference today Vancouver Whitecaps did the expected and announced Martin Rennie as their new head coach in waiting. Rennie will take over after the end of the 2011 season: Tom Soehn remains as interim head coach and will resume his duties as director of soccer operations at the end of the year.
The 36-year-old Rennie is currently head coach of the Carolina Railhawks of the North American Soccer League. His record in North America is sterling despite his youth: runner-up in the USSF D2 playoffs last year, an USL Second Division championship in 2008, quality teams in three leagues from 2009 to 2005, a winning record in the US Open Cup, and a very heavy favourite to pick up the 2011 NASL title.
Rennie is young and talented. He has never coached a losing team; his career record in regular-season matches is 75 wins, 35 losses, and 25 draws. He built a team of castoffs into championship contenders in Carolina from 2009 to 2010, then when ownership controversy threatened to dismantle the Railhawks in 2011 he did it again. He's personable, clever, and a career student of the game. (Not just a student of the game: he holds a bachelor's degree from Glasgow Caledonian University).
Unlike Teitur Thordarson or Tom Soehn, Rennie never played soccer at a high level: knee injuries killed his youth career before it really began. He's never coached outside of North America and only arrived here in 2005. All he's done is rise gradually up the ladder with teams that kept on winning.
He's not a big-name international or a crafty veteran who's seen it all. He's just a smart young man who's made a habit of walking into bad teams and making them into champions. I'm not sure what else we could possibly want. This is an exceptional hire. As last-place teams go, the Vancouver Whitecaps have spent the last couple weeks getting into the news for all the right reasons.
|2005||Cascade Surge||USL PDL||12||2||2|
|2007||Cleveland City Stars||USL-2||10||9||1|
|2008*||Cleveland City Stars||USL-2||10||7||3|
|2010||Carolina Railhawks||USSF D2||13||8||9|
Rennie got his start with the Cascade Surge of the USL Premier Development League. It's an ignominious way for a UEFA "A"-licensed Scot to make his way to North America, but it worked for Rennie. He said today that the reason he came over to North America was because he wanted to be a head coach. He could have been a youth coach or an assistant in Scotland and worked his way up the ranks, sure. Instead, he decided to go overseas and make his name while he was still a young man. Rennie doesn't lack boldness either as a man or a manager.
When Rennie took over the Surge in 2005 they were coming off a successful 2004 season with eleven wins, one draw, and four losses but a disappointing first-round playoff exit. Rennie improved on a good team, lifting them to a twelve-win season that saw them score more than twice as often as they conceded. Playoff disappointment still followed but the team at least got to the second round; unfortunately, Rennie left the Surge after the season and took their success with them. After Rennie's departure the Surge collapsed into the USL PDL Northwest Division basement and eventually folded in 2009.
In 2007 Rennie joined USL Second Division expansion side the Cleveland City Stars and enjoyed more success. The cash-strapped team lost only once in their expansion regular season (1-0 to the Charlotte Eagles), finishing second in the league behind the dominant Richmond Kickers and handing Rennie USL-2 Coach of the Year honours. A loss to Richmond in the US Open Cup and to Harrisburg City in the first round of the playoffs were disappointments, but they we4re made good the following year. The Stars to turn over much of their roster before the 2008 season but Rennie remained. His team's regular-season form remained strong and they got it done when it counted, knocking off Western Massachusetts, Richmond, and Charlotte en route to a USL Second Division championship. The team also made noise in the US Open Cup, defeating the USL-1 Minnesota Thunder in the second round before going out to the MLS Chicago Fire.
Rennie moved up to the USL-1 Carolina Railhawks for the 2009 season; without Rennie Cleveland City finished near bottom in the USL-2 and folded after the year. The Railhawks picked up where Cleveland City left off, racking up almost universal success after two years of hapless mediocrity. The 2008 Railhawks under Scott Schweitzer had nine wins, ten draws, and eleven losses and finished out of the playoffs. In 2009 Rennie led them to a 16-7-7 record, finished second in the league, and lost in the first round of the playoffs to a plucky team named the Vancouver Whitecaps on a goal by long-time Eighty Six Forever favourite Randy Edwini-Bonsu.
The 2010 Railhawks had no Edwini-Bonsu to worry about (thanks to Nicholas Addlery and the Puerto Rico Islanders) but the Islanders disposed of the Railhawks themselves. They won the immensely competitive NASL Conference and a triumphant playoff run saw them beat the NSC Minnesota Stars, everybody's championship dark horse the Montreal Impact, and finally lose to the Islanders in a hard-fought series they were unlucky to lose. At the end of the season yours truly gave Rennie our USSF D2 coach of the year award. Ownership struggles led to the loss of much of the roster but the 2011 Railhawks are by far the class of the NASL this season: it would take a brave man to bet against their retaining the title.
Skeptics will compare Rennie to the late head coach Teitur Thordarson: both men who had success in the second division but failed to thrive in the first. But Thordarson is over twenty years older than Rennie: Rennie will be the second-youngest coach in MLS behind only Ben Olsen of DC United. Rennie has also been more universally successful in the second division than Thordarson. In three years in Vancouver Thordarson led a 2008 team to a good (but not spectacular) regular season record and a championship, a 2009 team to a lousy regular season record but a timely playoff hot streak, and a 2010 team to both regular season and playoff mediocrity. Rennie's 2010 season with Carolina is superior to anything Thordarson accomplished in Vancouver and 2011 looks to be an even bigger improvement.
Rennie is also ambitious. He's moved from USL PDL to USL-2 to USL-1 to MLS in six seasons of coaching, and don't be fooled: if he's successful in MLS he'll move up from there just as quickly. Still, wouldn't that be a fantastic problem to have? A coach who may move on to Europe because he's done so well here and won the Whitecaps so many games? Rennie certainly won't need to be motivated.
He also has an eye to the long term. His teams in Carolina and Cleveland City have boasted a strong balance of veterans and youth. When asked why he chose to come to Vancouver instead of any of the other MLS cities courting him (including the Montreal Impact), one of the main factors Rennie cited was the Whitecaps Residency program. There's no danger he'd load up on old men and try to win the 2011 title with 2005's players: he's brought up quality youngsters everywhere he's coached.
Martin Rennie is the right man for the Whitecaps job: he's so good it's hard to imagine better. The hard part will be waiting until he can join us.