Rennie-BC Plance

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)

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

Champions League Wednesday: Leicester’s last stand; Porto-Juve

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City looks on during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 21, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Previewing Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League round-of-16 action…

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Leicester City vs. Sevilla

There’s no two ways about it: Leicester’s season — and perhaps their status as a Premier League club — is quickly spiraling out of control. The Foxes, just nine months after winning the PL title, sit 17th in the league table, one point clear of relegation, with 13 games still to play. Chances are, they won’t be back in the Champions League anytime soon, making Wednesday’s round-of-16 first-leg clash away to Sevilla all the more a monumental moment in the club’s history.

Where has hasn’t it gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri‘s side this season? If you’re of the mind that one player — N'Golo Kante in Leicester’s case — doesn’t make a team himself, then we’ll have to go one step further in diagnosing the stunning regression seen at the King Power Stadium this season: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined to score 41 goals in the PL last season, have managed all of eight together in 2016-17. It’s the loss of Kante, though, that has left the defense forever exposed (43 goals conceded in 25 PL games, after conceding 36 in 38 all of last season), and the goal-getters forever feeding on scraps (24 goals scored, compared to 68 last season).

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]


Porto vs. Juventusfrom the AP

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci will be left in the stands for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Porto as punishment for his outburst aimed at coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri announced the move on Tuesday at the pre-match news conference, saying he had agreed it with club officials as “a fair decision, out of respect for the squad, the fans and the club.”

Bonucci became embroiled in a heated argument over substitutions with Allegri after a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

Allegri also will punish himself for his angry reaction to Bonucci, announcing a donation to charity.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”