Why Martin Rennie failed in Vancouver … and a warning for the Whitecaps:

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Martin Rennie just proved that it takes more than a good soccer mind to get it right in MLS.

Rennie knows the game and always seemed equipped with the tactical acumen to make some hay in MLS. He had certainly done so previously in domestic soccer’s lower tiers with the Carolina Railhawks.

But Xs and Os only work when a manager gets the personnel calls right, and that was Rennie’s failing.

You never quite know who might be pulling strings behind the scenes (or who is chiefly shaping the roster at a larger level). Either way, Rennie’s choices really were all over the road, sometimes with little logic behind them. (Or, perhaps, without transparency. And if a manager isn’t communicating his thoughts on why fill-in-the-blank plays here instead of there, or why Tommy gets the start instead of Timmy, we can only assume that he’s playing hunches or hatching half-baked plans).

Player selection really is where it begins and ends with managers. It’s not “tactics” so much as identifying the tactics that best fit the personnel. It’s really about picking the right guys and then setting them up for success. And that’s where Rennie never quite seemed to get it right in Vancouver.

(MORE: Rennie is out after two years with the Whitecaps)

There’s a lot of young talent around BC Place, for instance – but also questions aplenty about why we didn’t see a little more of them, a little more Russell Tiebert or Kekuta Manneh or others in 2013?

We saw Darren Mattocks in and out of the lineup, too. Perhaps it’s not Rennie’s fault, exactly, but the young forward’s upside seems so tantalizingly vast – and you wonder if it is being developed properly?

And then there’s Gershon Koffie, who has so much promise – but curiously started just 21 games this year. Plus, shifting midfield roles never quite allowed the 22-year-old Ghanaian settle into a comfortable groove.

When the right guys were on the field, there were too many times when they just didn’t seem to find the right placements. Creatively inclined Daigo Kobayashi needed to be in the middle; by the time he finally got there, it was too late. (Rennie lost fan support and probably damaged his relationship with upper management by not offering a credible explanation for that one.)

Nigel Reo-Coker seemed well suited for the center of the park, or for a slightly offset role, where he spent most of the year. But right back? He didn’t play there much, but he did sometimes look like a fish out of water when assigned to that less suitable role.

Like so many of Rennie’s choice, it just looked … weird. A Premier League midfielder, asked to play at right back? Surely there was a better way around that one, a better way to keep Reo-Coker closer to his strongest role?

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Darren Mattocks … seven goals as a rookie in 2012, but just three for the speedy young forward in 2013.

Injuries definitely affected the bottom line, particularly the crusher to inspirational center back Jay DeMerit just minutes into the 2013 season.

Then again, every team deals with injuries. What every team doesn’t do is fade toward the end. In 2012, the Whitecaps were a healthy 9-5-5 on July 20 (even without DeMerit). They finished on a 2-8-5 slide.

This year, Rennie’s bunch was 7-3-5 in late June. They finished on a 5-9-4 slide.

When a team finishes going the wrong way once, it might be an accident. Two in a row is starting to look like an uncomfortable trend. Enough of the ownership, apparently divided on this choice, according to reports, was apparently convinced so.

In a league built on parity, maximizing the talent on hand is the bottom line. Possible catchy MLS managers’ mantra: “Use it wise if you want to survive.”

All that said, here is the warning: The Whitecaps are about to be on their fourth manager … hardly a convincing track record for a club just finishing its third MLS season.

Teitur Thordarson didn’t last long enough, about three months into his first season as an MLS coach, to make even half the league stops. (Too bad, too … Utah is vastly underrated as an MLS destination!)  Tom Soehn became interim manager; but it’s always awkward with the technical director fires the coach and then names himself as replacement, even if it’s just on interim basis. Next came Rennie, and he’s gone now.

Does this remind anyone of another Canadian club, one on the perpetual merry-go-round of remodeling? Yes, Vancouver Whitecaps, you are wading a little too close to the Toronto FC zone.

(MORE: The MLS coaching carousel is about to get crazy)

(MORE: With coaching vacancies ahead, there should be a race for Tab Ramos)

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

(more…)

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Arsenal

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  • Shkodran Mustafi, Francis Coquelin, Per Mertesacker all in line for season debuts.
  • The game will likely come too soon for Alexis Sanchez, who is still working to get to match fitness.
  • Stoke City have lost only one of their last seven home matches against Arsenal (W3 D3 L1).
  • Stoke City forward Jese Rodriguez could make his debut following his season-long loan move from Paris Saint-Germain.
  • Alexandre Lacazette could become the first Arsenal player to score in both of his opening two PL appearances for the club.

Coming off an exciting 4-3 comeback victory at home against Leicester City, Arsenal travel to what’s been in the past a house of horrors, visiting the bet365 Stadium to face Stoke City. (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Three months ago, Arsenal ended some of the bad voodoo on them in Stoke with a 4-1 win on the road. This time around, the Gunners have even more firepower, with Alexandre Lacazette off to a strong start in the Premier League.

Stoke City, like Arsenal, are still getting comfortable in the in-vogue 3-4-3 formation, as well as getting used to life without Marko Arnautovic. Spanish forward Jese, a Real Madrid academy graduate, could make his season debut for Stoke on Saturday and summer signings Kurt Zouma, Bruno Martins Indi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will push American Geoff Cameron for a place in the team each week.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on last year’s win at Stoke: “We were well-organized, efficient and under pressure to win the game. We were on a strong run as well. We had a convincing win there and that should inspire us. Traditionally it’s always been a difficult place to go for everybody, but of course we continue in a strong way our start to the season.

“I don’t believe in bogey teams too much. What is important is the performance on the day. We had a good performance last season and we have to focus on that, just to deal with the same performance. Stoke have a good record at home against many teams and I’m convinced that if we play our game, we have a good chance of winning.”

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes on this season’s new signings: “We are hoping to involve all the guys we have signed this summer, some will be on the bench, others won’t. We are very excited by the group that we are assembling to be honest.”

“We always aim to be stronger at the end of the window than we were at the beginning, and I would argue that of all the players that have left only one would have been considered as a regular starter. We have replaced those guys with players who I see as potential regular starters.”

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Prediction

Arsenal are clearly still a work in progress, but offensively they’re improved from a year ago. Stoke City on the other hand fell by a slim margin to Everton last week but have greatly improved defensively. We think it will be another defensive struggle, ending in a draw. Stoke City 1-1 Arsenal