BRITISH COLUMBIA

Whitecaps enter uncertain off-season after missing MLS playoffs, firing coach

10/31/2013 07:04 EDT | Updated 12/31/2013 05:12 EST
VANCOUVER - Jay DeMerit wants to be back with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Whether or not the club and its captain can agree on a new contract is one of the many questions facing the Major League Soccer outfit as it heads into an uncertain off-season.

No matter the sport, a team that misses the playoffs will see change, and that's already in full swing with the Whitecaps.

The axe fell on head coach Martin Rennie earlier this week after two inconsistent seasons at the helm. Vancouver made the playoffs last year before falling short in 2013.

In both campaigns, the Whitecaps started strong before stumbling badly. They recovered in time to become the first Canadian MLS team to make the playoffs in 2012, but a 1-7-2 slide doomed their post-season chances this time around.

Vancouver's first signing after joining MLS prior to the 2011 season, DeMerit said Thursday after the team's final fitness tests that his return hinges on a number of factors.

"With a new manager coming in, that creates a new element," said the 33-year-old defender. "You don't want to, as a player, be here if the manager doesn't want you here and (doesn't) want you to be a part of this organization or play the role that I've played.

"But also as a person, you want to make sure the manager is right and you want to work for that guy and be led by that guy."

DeMerit suffered a torn Achilles tendon in this season's first match, but recovered well ahead of schedule and was back in the lineup by mid-September.

He credited Rennie for helping to build the club, but added that MLS experience — something that 38-year-old Scot lacked before arriving in Vancouver — is something he thinks the new manager should possess.

"Most of the qualities that you look for in a manager were already here (with Rennie)," said DeMerit. "You look at the intangibles of what a manager has to bring ... and the only thing that wasn't involved in that was MLS experience. So you look maybe as that (needing) to be one of the next-level things."

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said at Tuesday's news conference to announce Rennie's firing that the search for a new coach would begin immediately.

One man who won't be joining the Whitecaps is former Canadian national team boss Frank Yallop. The 49-year-old, who won two MLS championships with the San Jose Earthquakes and grew up in Vancouver, was rumoured to be in the running, but was instead hired by the Chicago Fire on Thursday. The MLS coach of the year in 2012, Yallop was let go by San Jose after the club started this season 3-6-6.

Whoever does take over in Vancouver will have a lot to work with.

Camilo Sanvezzo won the Golden Boot as the top scorer in MLS in 2013, emphatically claiming the award with a hat trick in a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids in Sunday's season finale.

The Brazilian forward is anxious to impress the Whitecaps' yet-to-be-named new boss.

"When you have a new year, it doesn't matter how you played the year before," said Sanvezzo, who was named October's MLS player of the month on Thursday. "You have to play well because everybody forgets how you played."

The emergence of a pair of 18 year olds — forward Kekuta Manneh and Canadian defender Sam Adekube — were among the other highlights, along with Vancouver's Cascadia Cup victory, which is awarded to the top team in head-to-head competition with the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers.

"There's a lot of positives to draw on from this season," said DeMerit. "We've got to make sure that going into an off-season, we use those as a foundation to keep building in the right direction."

Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon lost his starting spot under Rennie, and his future with the club remains uncertain.

Still, the 38-year-old sees a lot of potential in Vancouver, both on and off the pitch.

"As far as the markets I've played in, I think there's a huge opportunity," said Cannon. "There's a love for this game and a love for this team that you don't see in every city. No matter what happens in the future, I'm glad to be a part of it."