by Neil Morris
On Monday, the Carolina RailHawks held a press conference in advance of the team’s opening preseason friendly. Joining master of ceremonies Dean Linke on the dais were the familiar faces of team president Curt Johnson, assistant coach Dewan Bader and, of course, head coach Martin Rennie.
The big difference, however, was the Vancouver Whitecaps FC logo now emblazoned on Rennie’s tracksuit. After three years spent helming the RailHawks, Rennie is embarking on his debut season in Major League Soccer as Vancouver’s new gaffer. This Sunday, the RailHawks and Whitecaps meet at WakeMed Soccer Stadium for a preseason friendly being touted as the “4th Annual Hilton Garden Inn Durham Southpoint Community Shield Match.”
Mere hours after watching his Whitecaps defeat the Houston Dynamo in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, Fla., Rennie flew to North Carolina for the press conference promoting the match against his former club. He will return to Orlando for another match this Wednesday, and the Whitecaps will compete in the tournament’s championship session Saturday evening.
Rennie says the Whitecaps will dispatch split squads for this weekend’s matches. Although he has not decided which Vancouver players will take part in the game against Carolina, presumably he will include former RailHawks Brad Knighton, Matt Watson and Marques Davidson, all now members of the Whitecaps.
Like a college kid returning to visit his old high school, Rennie clearly basked in his homecoming.
“It’s just exciting for me to be back here and see this club basically fulfilling the vision that I knew it could have,” said Rennie. “I have so many happy memories in this stadium. Some great crowds, some great nights, some exciting games, and I believe that … Sunday will be another one of those.”
Absent from Monday’s press conference was new RailHawks manager Colin Clarke, who has spent the past week in the United Kingdom after the sudden death of his father. Clarke is due to return to the club this Wednesday.
“On Monday we had a team meeting,” said Bader, “and we felt that the best way to honor Colin and the passing of his father was to come together and work as hard as possible this week and be further along whenever Colin gets back.”
Before his return leg back to Orlando, I spoke with Rennie about his early time in Vancouver and the status of another former RailHawk training with the Whitecaps.
Rennie: From the playing side of it, it was the requirement to have a little bit more height, a little bit more power and pace and to be more organized defensively. And then just trying to build that environment where it’s a winning culture and there’s a lot of attention to detail for each player.
I’ve read you were the only one who wasn’t surprised that Darren Mattocks fell to Vancouver at number two in the SuperDraft?
Yeah, I’m delighted that we’ve got him. The guy’s an awesome player. He’s just got something different, you know? That liveliness, that sharpness, that pace and ability. He’s going to be fun to work with and we’re really glad we’ve got him.
No interview with you would be complete without a question about Etienne Barbara. What are you waiting on as far as his contract: his injury, his green card, or something else?
We’re making the final decisions now. Right now he has an injury, but it’s not that major. He’s just going to be out for a little while.
Are you waiting for him to become domestic qualified?
No. There’s no announcement as yet, but … there’s a good chance we’ll end up signing him but there’s not really any significant delay or any reason other than we haven’t pulled the trigger yet or announced it.
What about the jump to MLS so far has surprised you the most?
I think just the resources that are there, the number of staff. When we went on the road with the RailHawks, it was 1 v. 1 [staff pick-up] games between me and Paul [Ritchie]. With the Whitecaps, it’s 7 v. 7. It’s totally different in terms of the resources that are available for your team. Also, the constant media interest and attention, and fans constant interest and attention, that’s definitely a difference. But, a lot of other things are very similar. At the end of the day soccer is soccer and people are people. Even if you’re playing at a different level, you still have to manage people properly.
The Carolina RailHawks friendly against the Vancouver Whitecaps kicks off at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary this Sunday, March 4 at 3 p.m. View Monday's press conference here.