BURNABY, B.C. - A tweet has spelled trouble for Vancouver Whitecaps striker Long Tan.
The Major League Soccer club suspended Tan indefinitely Friday after he complained about his lack of playing time on Twitter.
"We just sent him home today because it's pretty clear we don't criticize the club or other people publicly," said coach Martin Rennie. "We would never do that. We (in management) never criticize players. We don't expect players to do that."
Tan, a 24-year-old native of Dalian, China, is the first Chinese player to suit up for an MLS team. He has struggled to get into the lineup since joining the Whitecaps at the start of their 2011 expansion campaign via trade from Tampa.
Although Tan excelled at the end of last season, he has been pushed down the depth chart by Omar Salgado, who is currently out with a foot injury, and newcomers Sebastien Le Toux, Darren Mattocks and Etienne Barbara. Tan has played a total of 27 minutes while appearing in three games this season, but he has not set foot on the pitch since April 18 against Kansas City.
In broken English, Tan criticized Rennie, without mentioning him by name, for not giving him playing time and refusing to release him so that he could pursue opportunities with other clubs.
"What do you want? I do not understand!" Tan wrote.
He could not be reached for further comment.
This is the second time a Whitecaps player has gotten into trouble for a tweet in recent months. Former Vancouver midfielder Lee Nguyen was put on notice by team management during the pre-season after he jokingly made a homophobic comment about Whitecaps backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton.
The Whitecaps did not punish Nguyen, but the club later waived him — after making a trade in order to be able to pick him in the MLS lottery draft — while denying the Twitter incident factored into his release. He was subsequently claimed by New England and scored twice in a victory over Vancouver last month.
Rennie said it's important that players understand the club's attitude on keeping criticism with in the team.
Despite the suspension, Rennie said Tan is still an important part of the team and possesses considerable potential. But he has to learn what it takes to be a professional and be more consistent.
However, star Scottish midfielder Barry Robson is due to join the Whitecaps in the next couple of weeks, and Vancouver must move a player in order to get him on the roster when an international transfer window opens June 27.
Rennie said he has already decided how he is going to adjust his roster, but did not divulge details. It remains to be seen whether Tan's tweet will lead to his departure.
The Whitecaps front office uses Twitter extensively to report on team activities and game results. Rennie said the club encourages the use social media and does not want to ban players from using Twitter as some other teams have.
The Whitecaps also have a social media policy.
The policy's ultimately message?
"Be careful what you write," said Rennie.