VANCOUVER, B.C. – Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie may have signed up three of his former players from the NASL Carolina RailHawks, but he warned against anyone considering them second-tier talents.
“In the last few years, there’s been probably eight players I’ve coached (in the NASL) that have gone on to play in MLS and have done really well, who have played consistently and have contributed to the squads they’ve been on,” Rennie told MLSsoccer.com last week when asked if these “second-division” players are capable of making an impact in Major League Soccer.
The most recent NASL addition was announced last Thursday when midfielder Jun Marques Davidson joined the Whitecaps. Davidson (above) played for Japanese second-division side Tokushima Vortis in 2011, and played for Rennie during the 2010 season with the Carolina RailHawks.
“[Davidson] has great experience, having played since he was 18 years old in the J-League and being around some great coaches and great players, playing in big games with good teams,” Rennie said. “Technically, he’s a very clever player. He’s got excellent vision and he does read the game defensively.”
The Scotsman described Davidson as a disciplined player who can sit in the midfield, break up plays and receive the ball in tight spaces, attributes that Rennie indicated are essential for a good passing side.
Davidson joins former RailHawks players Matt Watson and goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who already enjoyed a spell in MLS with the New England Revolution, with the Whitecaps.
“Is Brad Knighton a division two player when he’s played four years in MLS and six months in division two? Probably not," Rennie said. "Matt Watson has to prove it, but he’s a guy who has had a number of MLS teams wanting to sign him over the last few years and a lot of teams in MLS know how good he is, and in some ways would probably be disappointed they didn’t get him.”
Next Rennie will hope to add NASL MVP Etienne Barbara, who scored 20 goals in the US second division last season. The Whitecaps executed a trade with the Montreal Impact to gain the rights to negotiate a contract with the Maltese international.
"Is Etienne Barbara a division two player when he’s played 10 years in Europe and two years in division two?" Rennie asked. "Not really. He’s played 30 odd times for his national team, so he’s not really a guy who’s never played anywhere else and not had success at other levels – he’s had success at multiple different levels."
And no matter what rung on the domestic ladder players come from, it will only help Rennie to have a handful of players who are already familiar with his methods as he embarks on his first MLS campaign with a new squad, .
"They’re not really division two players," Rennie said. "The fact they’ve worked with me for a short space of time is only a positive thing since I know what they bring from a personality point of view and a playing point of view, so for those guys I don’t see that argument."