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)

Watch: Scott Sinclair nets stunning curler in Celtic victory

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Celtic is enjoying another fine campaign in Scotland, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to the play of Scott Sinclair.

[ MORE: Burkina Faso, Cameroon progress at AFCON 2017 ]

The Englishman was at it again on Sunday during Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win over Albion Rovers when the 27-year-old curled an absolutely sublime effort into the top corner for the game’s opening goal.

The finish, Sinclair’s 13th of the season in all competitions, came after the winger picked up the ball on the left side of the Albion penalty area. Sinclair then proceeded to slot his dipping shot just under the bar and into the far post.

Celtic now moves on to the fifth round of this season’s tournament, joining the likes of Rangers and Aberdeen. In addition to the team’s success in the competition, the Bhoys have yet to lose a match in the Scottish Premier League this campaign (19 W, 1 D).

La Liga & Serie A: Sevilla avoids Osasuna upset, Barcelona cruises

EIBAR, SPAIN - JANUARY 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Ander Capa (L) and Dani Garcia of SD Eibar during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and FC Barcelona at Ipurua stadium on January 22, 2017 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Eibar 0-4 Barcelona 

Four different goalscorers and three points has put Barcelona inches closer to Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, and it certainly was a complete effort for the Blaugrana. Denis Suarez gave Barca the lead ahead of halftime before Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each netted in the second stanza to give Luis Enrique’s side a strangle hold on the match. Barca now sits just two points behind Real as the season nears its halfway point.

Meanwhile, Barca suffered a major loss during the match when Sergio Busquets was carted off the pitch after sustaining an ankle injury. Busquets left the game after receiving the brunt of a Gonzalo Escalante tackle in the eighth minute.

Osasuna 3-4 Sevilla

There were goals galore at the Estadio El Sadar, however, Osasuna remains at the bottom of La Liga despite their best efforts. The last place side led on two occasions against Sevilla, but a strong second half from the visitors allowed Los Rojiblancos to remain within a point of league leaders Real Madrid. Vicente Iborra recorded a brace for Sevilla, with goals on both sides of halftime, while Franco Vázquez and Pablo Sarabia also inked their names on the score sheet.

Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Atleti went ahead early on against Bilbao, but Diego Simeone’s men needed a late Antoine Griezmann finish to earn a point on Sunday. Koke struck inside of three minutes to give Madrid the early advantage before goals from Íñigo Lekue and Oscar de Marcos gave Bilbao the lead. Atletico has now fallen eight points behind Real Madrid, while Bilbao sits seventh on 29 points.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 0-0 Sporting Gijon
Real Sociedad 1-0 Celta Vigo


Juventus 2-0 Lazio

Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain each found the back of the net early on for Juventus and Massimiliano Allegri’s side never looked back from there. After scoring in the fifth and 16th minutes, respectively, the Bianconeri remain atop of Serie A after picking up the team’s 16th win on the season. Lazio remains fourth following the defeat, now sitting eight points behind the league leaders.

Roma 1-0 Cagliari

Edin Dzeko netted his 14th league goal of season for Roma on Sunday en route to the team’s fifth consecutive victory in all competitions. The win sees Roma move to within a point of Juventus at the top of Italy’s top flight, however, the Bianconeri currently hold a game in hand. Meanwhile, Cagliari sits 11th in Serie A on 26 points.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna 2-0 Torino
Empoli 1-0 Udinese
Genoa 2-2 Crotone
Palermo 0-1 Inter Milan
Pescara 1-3 Sassuolo
Atalanta 1-0 Sampdoria

AFCON wrap: Burkina Faso tops Group A, Cameroon also through

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bertrand Traore of Ajax is chalenged by Darwin Andrade of Standard Liege during the UEFA Europa League group G match between AFC Ajax and  R. Standard de Liege at the Amsterdam Arena on September 29, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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One down, three to go.

Two nations advanced out of Group A on Sunday, and neither of the spots were held by the tournament’s hosts.

[ MORE: All AFCON 2017 coverage ]

Cameroon 0-0 Gabon

Hosts Gabon needed a victory to reach the final eight, however, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co. struggled mightily to break down the Cameroonian backline.

The Panthers failed to manage a shot on target on Sunday, while Cameroon — who finishes second in Group A — recorded a shot goalward just once.

Cameroon will likely face Senegal in the knockout phase after the Lions of Teranga locked up a spot in the next round.

Guinea-Bissau 0-2 Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso topped the group based on goal differential after an early own goal and Bertrand Traore added a second after halftime.

Rudinilson Silva was caught in an uncomfortable position after 11 minutes when the Guinea-Bissau defender put the ball into his own net. From there, Traore doubled the advantage for Burkina Faso after finishing off a Prejuce Nakoulma pass.

The Stallions will face the runner up of Group B, currently Tunisia, in the quarterfinals.

Group A table (* indicates teams that advanced)

*Burkina Faso (5 points, +2 GD)
*Cameroon (5 pts., +1 GD)
Gabon (3 pts., 0 GD)
Guinea-Bissau (1 pt., -3 GD)

Monday’s AFCON schedule

Senegal vs. Algeria — 11 a.m. ET
Zimbabwe vs. Tunisia — 2 p.m. ET

Henry bashes Arsenal’s Xhaka after second red card of season

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Granit Xhaka (2nd R) of Arsenal talks to Steven Defour (1st R) of Burnley before shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It’s become a trend, albeit one that the Gunners certainly aren’t too fond of. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka was sent off for the second time this season and while his side did manage to hold on to three points, the Swiss international has quickly made a name for himself in England for all the wrong reasons.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger apologizes for sending off ]

Xhaka, 24, was dismissed in the second half of Sunday’s 2-1 win over Burnley after making a rash challenge on Clarets midfielder Steven Defour in the 65th minute.

[ MORE: Gunners up to second place after handling Burnley ]

Former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry sounded off on Xhaka’s latest dismissal following the match, calling out the midfielder for his lack of discipline.

“It’s not the first time. He did the same thing against Swansea,” Henry told Sky Sports. “This one I just don’t get it. Against Swansea it was a counter. Here, he gives the ball cheaply away.

“Why are you doing that 60 yards away from your goal, 25 minutes to go, you’re in control of the game? You misplace a pass. So what? Stay on your feet.

“As soon as you do that, the rules say it’s a red. Is it worse than [Marcos] Rojo who didn’t get a red? No. But the rule says both feet off the ground, it’s a red.”

Since the beginning of 2015, Xhaka has been shown red cards on six occasions dating back to the midfielder’s time with German club Borussia Monchengladbach, and including appearances for both club and country.

Xhaka’s suspension will keep him out of Arsenal’s next three matches, including home fixtures with Watford and Hull and a difficult road visit to Chelsea.