Head coach Martin Rennie (left) of the Vancouver Whitecaps says the changes made to the Major League Soccer team mid-season could be affecting the players' chemistry.
Photograph by: Getty Images Files, The Province
VANCOUVER - If you’re wondering what that crackling soccer buzz is this week, Major League Soccer is between the first and second stages of its re-entry draft of jettisoned players. Like, you didn’t know.
Stage 1 of the draft on Friday consisted of one player. The Chicago Fire claimed DC United forward Maicon Santos while all other teams passed. Stage 2 goes this Friday. Between stages, MLS teams are allowed to negotiate new deals with their own players whose option years were declined. The Vancouver Whitecaps are believed to be trying to do this with veteran midfielder John Thorrington, whose 2012 salary of $170,000 the team was unwilling to maintain.
There are age and fitness issues with Thorrington, 33, but the Californian gave the Whitecaps leadership and character, traits the franchise needs in greater abundance for its third season of MLS.
Coach Martin Rennie admitted as much when the Whitecaps bombed in their final home game, losing 1-0 to the Portland Timbers before a more noble defeat, 2-1, to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Cup playoffs.
“At the moment, the team hasn’t quite got the culture that it needs,” Rennie said back on Oct. 21.
The culture or chemistry of the Whitecaps is a paramount issue this winter.
“We certainly take responsibility for impacting the chemistry of the team because we made changes (mid-season) and we probably made one or two too many,” Whitecaps’ president Bob Lenarduzzi said before the re-entry draft. “Everyone needs to be accountable, and so does management. Did we really help the situation? Probably not.
“My belief is there is something wrong. I think we’ve got a good core of players. Leadership is important but we have to identify it. We have to get to the point where that’s addressed ... because we’re a second-year team and what we don’t want to do is go backwards.”
Lenarduzzi cited defender Andy O’Brien, who provided character and ability after his summer acquisition, as the kind of player the Whitecaps need. But he admitted it’s harder to identify leadership than skill when scouting players.
“It’s not an easy thing,” Lenarduzzi said. “You can do all your research and still get things wrong now and again. We look at not just the player’s ability, but what else he brings to the club.”
NHL STUPIDITY MAKES SENSE: The National Hockey League season is in grave jeopardy because the dumbest lockout in pro sports history now hinges largely on the dumbest standoff within the dispute.
When NHL vice-president Bill Daly – henceforth known as Bill “The Hill” or “Hillbilly” — exclaimed Thursday that the league’s demand for a five-year limit on individual contracts was “the hill we will die on,” it seemed suddenly possible the Mayans got it right and life as we know it ends Dec. 21.
Remembering that individual contracts do not affect by one dollar the share of revenue split by owners and players, the NHL’s demand for a five-year limit seems mostly for accounting purposes, to protect franchise values.
Commissioner Gary Bettman views long-term contracts, like the Vancouver Canucks’ 12-year deal with goalie Roberto Luongo, as liabilities on balance sheets that detract from teams’ value. If the league’s real concern was that these primarily front-loaded deals circumvent the salary cap, it should focus entirely on year-to-year salary variation and forget about term.
The NHL Players’ Association’s opposition to contract limits — it compromised Thursday and offered owners an eight-year limit – is almost as bewildering as the league position because only 12 per cent of players are on contracts longer than five years. Generally, only the most elite players benefit from “lifetime contracts,” which take heaps of money out of the NHLPA’s finite revenue share, leaving fewer dollars for others.
SUGGESTION BOX: Union leader Donald Fehr’s address to a Canadian Auto Workers council on Saturday would be like Bettman talking to Fox News’ editorial board. Fehr had them at hello. At goodbye, Fehr asked his union brothers and sisters for suggestions to end the lockout.
Here goes: Six-year limit on individual contracts (only six per cent of NHLers are on deals longer than six years); seven-year-plus-mutual-option term on CBA; just enough “transition” flexibility to allow teams to duck under the new salary cap made possible by the players’ share being reduced to 50 per cent from 57.
Escrow limits should not be an issue because players, like owners, eventually get every dollar due. But who knows? Maybe escrow is the mole hill the NHLPA will die on.
JAN. 1 OR APRIL 1? Even the stoic, poker-faced Russian players from the old Soviet era now approach hockey with a sense of humour. How else to explain Russian hockey president Vladislav Tretiak’s patronage appointment of Alexei Yashin as head coach of the women’s national team?
A player who seemed preoccupied in the NHL with leveraging every cent he could from the Ottawa Senators, years before the New York Islanders bought out his 10-year, $72-million contract, Yashin will be a rookie coach in charge of women who make almost nothing.
Tretiak explained: “I think for the ladies, it’s a great gift for the New Year.”
Or April Fools’ Day.
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