Vancouver Whitecaps confirmed the departure of head coach Martin Rennie on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after his second season in charge ended with the club sitting seventh in Major League Soccer's Western Conference, three points outside the playoff places.
In the weeks leading up to the end of the season, speculation was rife that the Scotsman would be replaced so the news comes as no surprise. It's a move that may even have happened if the Whitecaps had managed to sneak into the playoffs.
Rennie has trumpeted his team's achievements loudly in recent weeks. This year, they set the club's highest ever MLS points total, scored the most goals, won the Cascadia Cup against their rivals Seattle and Portland, and beat the Sounders, LA and New York for the first time in MLS. Brazilian sensation Camilo secured the league's Golden Boot and the club won the MLS Player of the Week award a league high seven times. There was plenty to shout about, and on a number of occasions at BC Place this season, they played some scintillating soccer to entertain and engage the fan-base.
However, those achievements mean very little without reaching the two main goals of making the playoffs and winning the Canadian Championship. The Whitecaps came close to both, but close wasn't good enough for Rennie to keep his job.
It's true that the club has made progress in each of the seasons Rennie was in charge, but this year, that progress just wasn't big enough to keep up with the teams around them. The fact is, in an extremely competitive Western Conference, the Whitecaps slipped back. Their progress was much smaller than other teams such as Portland and Colorado, who took big strides forward.
It's not just about the season's record. There were other issues at play. Rennie's team selections often provoked much discussion, including his desire to play Japanese defensive midfielder Jun Marques Davidson, especially at home. There was the regression of 2012 number 2 draft pick Darren Mattocks, the lack of playing time down the stretch for youngster Gershon Koffie and teenager Kekuta Manneh's thunderous impact when finally handed starts late in the season. Also at times, the Whitecaps looked as though they were trying to fit square pegs in round holes, until they finally switched to a 4-4-2 diamond midfield system late in the year.
The fact the 'Caps lost their captain and highest paid defender Jay DeMerit just seven minutes into the new season, and were without their DP striker Kenny Miller for long stretches due to injury clearly didn't help. The Whitecaps never really had a settled side because of injuries and also the coach's choice.
Did Rennie know what his best 11 was and the best way to utilize them? It seemed he was still trying to figure that out late in the year. Of course, with any team and any coach anywhere in the world, there are bound to be questions about player selections and formations, but there's little doubt these questions played into the mind of those making the decision.
Although Whitecaps' ownership has decided to go in a different direction, Rennie still deserves much credit for what he has achieved during his time in Vancouver. He leaves the Whitecaps in a much better position than when he arrived at the club following a dismal expansion season. Over the last couple of years, they have established themselves as an MLS club, assembled a much stronger squad and made the playoffs for the first time in 2012 after turning around one of the worst teams in the league.
The Whitecaps are still missing a couple of key pieces that will need to be found in the off-season, but they have a young, dynamic squad that can be a contender for the foreseeable future. Players like Camilo, Gershon Koffie, Kekuta Manneh and Russell Teibert have the potential to be big stars in Major League Soccer, and there are more coming through the Whitecaps' pipeline with the likes of Sam Adekugbe ready to step into the first team squad next year. Rennie's hiring of some strong assistant coaches, Paul Ritchie, Carl Robinson and Jake DeClute assisted the development of many of the club's younger players. They were all very shrewd hires by a thoughtful, intelligent head coach.
So what now? I think starting completely from scratch would be a massive mistake. There is some momentum. The Whitecaps aren't too far off with the squad they have had assembled, so whoever takes charge should be willing to add to what is already in place rather that start again and try to do things a different way.