VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps are unbeaten (2-0-1) at the start of their second Major League Soccer season and a lot has been made about what coach Martin Rennie has brought to the table.
Along with his different coaching tactics, different approach to games and different vision for this franchise, Rennie has created a group of leaders for the Whitecaps.
John Thorrington, Jay DeMerit, Joe Cannon and Alain Rochat are the four players that Rennie and his staff have chosen as their leaders and liaisons to the coaches. This is a group of MLS veterans and in Rochat’s case, a veteran of the game.
"I think it’s something that this group lacked last season," DeMerit said.
DeMerit also instituted a system of fines to be levied if players are late to practices and meetings. So far, throughout training camp and the first three weeks of the regular season they haven’t had to collect any money.
"When you punish someone and it hurts their wallet, sometimes that’s the best way to do it," Cannon said.
Having watched the evolution of this team over the past year having, this core group of leaders has definitely changed the dynamic of this team.
It is a very positive environment for players to be around, which usually in most sports will translate to on-field success.
"For me as a coach, I think it is important to have this group of leaders, not only to be effective on the field, but if a player has a question or a problem instead of being hesitant to come to myself or anyone else they can go to one of their teammates," Rennie said.
So far Rennie’s plan has worked out well and the on-field product hasn’t been so bad either with the Whitecaps recording three shutouts to start the campaign.
The MLS record to start a season without conceding a goal is 421 minutes, set in 2007 by the New York Red Bulls.
In order to beat that mark the Whitecaps will have to shut out Philly this weekend as well as the first 62 minutes of their next game versus the San Jose Earthquakes.
It’s attainable for this squad and something one of their leaders knows was a goal heading into this season.
"We talked about not being good, but being great," Thorrington said.
"We looked up records and stats and made goals for ourselves that we all believe that we can accomplish and I know that with this group of guys, sky’s the limit."
With an attitude like that, it’s hard not to like the Whitecaps chances of doing something special this year, but it all starts with their leaders.
Irfaan Gaffar is a Vancouver-based writer who works out of the Sporstnet Pacific Bureau. Follow Irfaan on Twitter.