It is a long enough journey to travel through the North American coaching ranks and end up in Major League Soccer. For Vancouver Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie, the trip has been especially so.
Rennie’s latest move spanned over 3,000 miles. The Whitecaps brought him all the way across the continent from the Cary, N.C.-based Carolina Railhawks of the NASL to take the helm for the 2012 season.
Vancouver’s front office had certainly done its homework. The club faced Rennie many times during its NASL years, before moving to MLS in 2011.
For Rennie, it was much more of a trip into the unknown. The Whitecaps’ vast resources and roster of international talent brings a much different challenge than what Rennie has experienced before.
Then again, Rennie has already seen plenty in his seven-year coaching career. Prior to joining the RailHawks in 2009, the Scot coached the now-defunct Cleveland City Stars of what was then known as the USL First Division in 2007 and 2008. He started out with the Premier Development League’s Cascade Surge, based in Salem, Ore., in 2005.
Although most of the Major League Soccer establishment left last week’s NSCAA Convention on Thursday afternoon, Rennie stayed in town to give a seminar on Friday. It was at the same time that Eric Wynalda was speaking, but fortunately Rennie was still around when Wynalda finished.
So we chatted for a few minutes about his new job, and his new life in Vancouver.
Talk about what it’s like to make the move from North Carolina to British Columbia.
It’s a big move. It’s a long way. But it’s also an exciting time for me, and it’s something I’m really looking forward to. Vancouver’s a huge club that gets incredible media attention, and really has a big fan base already. So I’m hoping that we can build a strong team there and increase that supporter base even more.
You had the opportunity to bring much-hyped Akron forward Darren Mattocks on board yesterday with the second overall pick in the SuperDraft. A lot of people have certainly heard about him even if they haven’t seen him play. What is Mattocks’ potential?
I think his potential is really, really high. He’s a guy who can make a difference. He gets in behind the opposition, he’s got great movement and pace, and he’s a natural goalscorer. He’s a great finisher, as his college record shows and his record even before that as a younger player.
We think a lot of him, we’re glad we’ve got him, and we think he can contribute for us.
It seemed like the top two picks in yesterday’s draft, Mattocks and Andrew Wenger, were pretty certain going into the day. Was there ever any doubt about that in your mind?
No, not really. I’ve seen a fair bit of both players, even probably more of Andrew Wenger. I knew they would both be good players for whoever picked them. The top two were pretty clear for me.
You have come to a Whitecaps team that has a fair number of players back from last year, and in particular has a lot of international players on the roster. Is it hard to get a message across to them from the start?
I don’t think it’s been too hard so far. I worked with them for two weeks at the end of the season, and they were very receptive and very open. I enjoyed working with them. I didn’t see any major personality conflicts or problems. There weren’t any people who didn’t want to be there. So I’m really looking forward to working with them.
Obviously, once you’re in the trenches with them, you find out more about people, but we need to build a winning culture there and we need to make sure that there’s a lot of respect for everybody involved. I’m sure there will be.
Speaking of the Whitecaps’ international players, you brought in South Korean defender Young-Pyo Lee during the offseason. From what I saw online, that generated a lot of buzz among the city’s Korean expatriate community. I saw a video of the lines of people to see him at his introduction, for example. Talk about the reaction to Lee’s arrival in Vancouver.
Young-Pyo Lee is an incredible player. What a career he’s had. He’s played in three World Cups, he’s played in the Premiership with Tottenham Hotspur, he’s played in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. He’s a fantastic person and player. He played in a UEFA Champions League semi-final with PSV Eindhoven.
He’s still very fit, he’s still raring to go. He just wanted to be part of something that we’re building in Vancouver, and wanted to come over there. Now that he’s there, the Korean population in Vancouver have just gone crazy for him. So it’s exciting.
Do you get the impression that these are people who maybe weren’t following the Whitecaps beforehand?
Yeah, I think so. I think some of those people, now that Young-Pyo is there, they’ve openly said they’re going to buy a season ticket. That they want to come and see him play, they’ve seen him on TV, he’s a national hero. Those kinds of things. So it’s an extra fan base that maybe we weren’t tapping into before.
I have yet to see the renovated BC Place in person, and I have heard great things about it. Talk about what it is like to step out onto the field there.
It’s incredible. I actually haven’t been out on the field yet, because at the end of season I wasn’t coaching there. But I’ve been to two Canadian Football League games there, and the atmosphere is amazing. The Grey Cup Final [which Vancouver hosted] was unbelievable – the crowd, the noise, everything about the atmosphere.
The facility is incredible. $563 million [Canadian] was spent on it. It’s a great place to play. We need to make it home, and we need to make it hard for other people to come there.
Lastly, to be a part of the Cascadia Cup rivalry, with the buzz it has created and the history it carries, what does that mean to you?
I come from Europe, obviously, where rivalries are a big part of the soccer culture. I think it’s exciting that we’ve got one there in the Northwest. I think it’s an especially big thing right now between Seattle and Portland. Vancouver need to get themselves, in that mix, and really shake a few people up.