VANCOUVER, B.C. — Here’s how Vancouver Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie spent the holidays in his native Scotland: He watched more than a few Scottish Premier League games, including the Old Firm derby between Glasgow rivals Celtic and Rangers, and popped down to England to take in a number of Premier League and Championship matches.
Yes, in between time with family, Rennie scouted, but he declined to say which English matches he took in for fear of fueling speculation about potential signings.
“We’re looking at defensive positions and defensive midfield-type players,” Rennie told MLSsoccer.com over the weekend. “Guys who can win the ball back, players who are athletic and aggressive, tall and strong kind of players — we need a couple more of them. We’ve got some good creativity and good quality going forward, but we definitely need to work on getting hard to beat and getting hard to play against.”
While Rennie was coy on potential transfer targets, he ruled out the signing of Chilean left fullback Miguel Aceval, who, it was reported, would join one of the three Canadian MLS squads in the near future.
“We’ve got two very good left backs already, so we don’t need any more,” Rennie said, in reference to Alain Rochat and Jordan Harvey.
The Whitecaps have only six recognized defenders on the books, meaning Vancouver’s defensive third will inevitably see further additions.
“When you work on recruitment, it’s one step forward, two steps back sometimes, or two steps forward, one step back,” Rennie said. “But I feel like we’re making really good progress on identifying the type of players we want to get. I think by the time preseason comes around, we’ll be in a much stronger position than we were at the end of last season.
Watson and the power of persuasion
While the signing of former Carolina RailHawks midfielder Matt Watson on Dec. 16 came to pass with little fanfare, his story with Rennie in second tier North American soccer provides some insight into the Scottish coach’s influence.
Watson, 26, was planning on leaving Carolina just before Rennie arrived at the club in 2009.
“I was almost certainly going to go [to MLS] in my mind, I’d already planned on it,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com recently. “I wasn’t on much money, my wife was pregnant, and I wasn’t 100 percent sure. But I spoke to Martin, and he told me what he thought of me as a player and said he wanted to work a little with me and do something special in Carolina.”
Special indeed. During the pair’s time together in Carolina, the RailHawks were regular-season runners up in the USL in 2009, NASL Conference winners and 2011 NASL regular-season champions in 2011.
“As I evaluated that [Carolina] squad, Matt Watson was someone who I’d coached against when he played for Richmond, who I thought was just an outstanding player,” Rennie said. “I told him that I thought he would have success in Carolina and be part of a team that would win and succeed, and that proved to be the case.”
It wasn’t only about the success the RailHawks could have. Rennie also envisioned personal success for Watson.
“I thought in a couple of years he would have better opportunities than he had at that moment and I think that’s proved correct,” Rennie continued. “He’s now at an excellent club in MLS with Vancouver and has a further chance to develop in his career, so it’s nice to see that come to fruition for him.”
Watson, a native of Redditch, England, is confident that Rennie’s style of man management will be an asset for the Whitecaps. Can it be replicated in Vancouver?
“[Rennie] has been very successful there and hopefully I’ve been a part of that, and hopefully I can do that again,” Watson said. “He always talks about a mental side of the game and positive thinking, and has an attitude that makes people want to play for him, and that’s what makes him successful.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.