When Martin Rennie took charge of his first Vancouver Whitecaps FC training session back in November 2011, he knew that he had inherited a squad that favoured the 4-4-2 formation, made famous throughout the nineties and the noughties. Wisely, he continued this policy, opting to gradually mould the squad in his own image.
New players were brought in and while the defensive issues were quickly resolved, the midfield proved to be more difficult as the only proper winger he had at his disposal was the then 18-year old Russell Teibert and former manager Tommy Soehn had converted him to a left wing back the previous season. Soehn preferred John Thorrington and Shea Salinas in the role.
Rennie recognised Teibert’s potential, but he was not ready. He needed experience. Rennie’s assistant, Paul Ritchie, spoke with Teibert throughout the year, giving him some personal coaching. Bobby Lenarduzzi, President of the Whitecaps, said that he "has committed himself to becoming a better player", and bought into the additional training provided to the young players.
He expects Teibert to challenge for a starting spot, but a loan deal to FC Edmonton remains an option. At this stage, "he can’t sit on the bench all year. He’s going to need some playing time, and the NASL has proven that it’s a good league to earn your stripes in."
Forward Omar Salgado used the 2011 off season to bulk up, adding one and a half stone (21 lb) of muscle to his 193 cm (6’4”) frame. He displayed a maturity in his approach to training, and was rewarded when Martin Rennie asked him to train as a left winger. Regarding the transition, Lenarduzzi remarked, "I feel like we saw glimpses of what could be a very good position for Omar, and I’m excited about the fact that he . . . provides us with the kind of production from the left flank that without him, we’re probably lacking."
On the right, Rennie converted French forward Sebastien Le Toux, and although he had the speed, stamina, and a certain willingness to try, he didn’t have the crossing ability, and more often than not, his first touch let him down. When Le Toux was transferred to New York Red Bulls in exchange for Dane Richards, Rennie had gained an orthodox right winger, only to see him slip through his fingers when the Jamaican agreed to a move to English Championship side Burnley.
On the eve of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, Lenarduzzi spoke of the need for "someone from the right flank that could either, get to the byeline and get crosses in, or who is just a good crosser of the ball that can get them in from different areas of the field".
In Erik Hurtado, the 5th overall selection in the draft, the Whitecaps got their man, although he will face stiff competition from trialist Paulo Araujo Jr, formerly of Real Salt Lake.
When you look up front, Kenny Miller and Darren Mattocks are as different as can be, but there are two things they have in common. They are not poachers and they both depend on crosses. They need effective wingers and they might have had them if Omar Salgado hadn't suffered a fracture in his right foot in early June, while on international duty for the United States U20 squad.
As Lenarduzzi puts it, "He’s still in the brace and our expectation is that he will be clear to train around February 1st. There were some complications with the injury, but fortunately nothing that serious. It’s been a long haul for him and for us, but I can assure you that he’s very eager to get back at it."
This may represent Russell Teibert’s best chance to claim the spot on the left wing, although the Canada squad didn’t do him any favours when they called him up for friendlies against Denmark and the United States. He won’t be returned to the Whitecaps until February 1st, the same day that Omar Salgado is expected to return to training. While Omar Salgado’s position in the squad is assured, the Whitecaps have options when it comes to Russell Teibert.
Colin Miller, an assistant coach during the Whitecaps inaugural MLS season, is the acting Canadian national team manager, and was recently appointed manager of FC Edmonton. He is known to be a great admirer of the man that supporters fondly refer to as the "Canadian Soccer Jesus". Tom Fath, co-owner of FC Edmonton, has had discussions with the Whitecaps on this very subject, as Lenarduzzi explained:
"Now that Colin’s there it ideally enables us to look at situations where we can loan players out. If we don’t feel they’re going to get the playing time with us, and they do need playing time. We know Colin, so there’s a level of comfort there."
"What is probably most pertinent is that we find creative players. We feel we need more creativity in our attack."
With Salgado and Teibert, Hurtado and possibly Araujo, the Whitecaps may finally have that.
To think that when Martin Rennie arrived on that cold November morning, John Thorrington and Shea Salinas were presented as wingers. How things have changed.