Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi has given head coach Martin Rennie a vote of confidence, despite a growing number of frustrating results, the most recent being the loss of the Voyageurs Cup.
The Whitecaps held a one-goal lead over the Montreal Impact in the Amway Canadian Championship final on Wednesday at BC Place Stadium, but conceded a late goal off a corner kick in a heartbreaking 2-2 draw.
The Whitecaps, who earned a pair of draws with the Impact in the two-leg final, lost the Cup on away goals.
Vancouver’s Major League Soccer side is currently eighth out of nine teams in the Western Conference standings, with a 3-4-4 record and six points out of a playoff spot.
The Whitecaps have just one win in their last nine regular season games.
And the Voyageurs Cup, which the club has never won but finished as the runner-up now five straight years, was ripped away from them on another soft goal off a set piece.
However, amid the struggles and disappointment, Rennie’s job is not, at this moment, in jeopardy.
“That’s not even something you consider at this point,” said Lenarduzzi in a phone interview Thursday morning.
“The support for Martin and the coaching staff and the players will continue to be there. If we play like we did (Wednesday night) and eliminate those individual mistakes, we will win more games than we lose.”
The Whitecaps were the better of the two teams in the final leg of the championship, but the desired result eluded them.
As Rennie said Thursday following training at UBC, it’s been a “microcosm” of the season.
The club has played well in most of its regular season matches and, in some cases, deserved a better fate.
But the cost of not taking their chances and giving up goals at key junctures of the game has been a steep one.
Against the Impact, the Whitecaps were buzzing from the opening minute and could’ve easily jumped out to a big lead at the half.
Their inability to figuratively put the foot on throat of the opponent only magnified what happened in the 84th minute, when Hassoun Camara, left unmarked in the box off a corner kick, scored to tie the game and ultimately killed the Whitecaps’ chances of winning the national title.
The sting of losing the championship so late in the match and having to watch Montreal’s players hoist the chalice on the Whitecaps’ home soil was evident with the fans, players and coaches of Vancouver’s club.
Frustration has replaced sorrow, as people seek answers. Pinning it on the coach seems a natural reaction, although perhaps premature.
“I don’t really feel any more pressure than I ever have when I’ve coached,” said Rennie, who is in just his second season with the Whitecaps.
“Even starting out coaching, when there’s no people watching and so on, I felt the pressure of winning…and wanting to do well and I feel just that the same.
“I don’t feel pressure as in being worried about things. I’m more focused on what we have to do next.”
Rennie acknowledged the need for improvement with this club, which made its first-ever MLS Cup playoff appearance last year.
One such area would be on set pieces.
It’s been an Achilles heel of the club at times this season, and the failure to defend the goal that gave the Impact the Canadian championship was just another example.
Is it a tactical deficiency? A lack of execution on the players’ part? Bad luck?
“Every week, we’re prepping for the next game and going over (the opposition’s) set pieces. We get clips, we draw stuff up on boards, we see it on charts, we go over it in training with players,” said goalkeeper Brad Knighton.
“It comes down to us not being able to effectively mark and tactically mark where we need to. That’s accountability and that comes down to the desire to win the ball beside the other person.
“That just comes down to a mentality, a desire to not letting the person beside you win a ball, whether it be off a set piece, a corner, or anything for that matter, even on the field 11-aside.”
There isn’t much time for players and coaches to dwell on this latest setback.
The Whitecaps caught a flight to New York Thursday afternoon. They will play the Red Bulls, the top team in the Eastern Conference with a 7-4-4 record and 25 points, on Saturday.
Striker Darren Mattocks (international call-up), Nigel Reo-Coker (suspended due to yellow card accumulation) and Gershon Koffie (injury) are all unavailable for Vancouver.
The Whitecaps are also still searching for their first road win of the year. Saturday would be an ideal time to change that, and the mood of soccer fans in the city.
“Today’s another day to move forward,” said Knighton.
“To try and get a result (in New York) is something that this club needs and it’s something that’s needed now.”