Carolina Challenge Cup
Carolina Challenge CupWhere: Blackbaud Stadium Tickets: 971-4625Today’s GamesVancouver vs. Chicago, 5 p.m.Houston vs. Charleston 7:15 p.m.
Every January, Martin Rennie would come to the world headquarters of Blackbaud, Inc., on Daniel Island for the company’s annual sales meetings and awards.
Rennie would sit through the long, boring meetings, looking out the floor-to-ceiling glass windows at Blackbaud Stadium — home of the Charleston Battery and the first soccer specific facility in the United States — and daydream.
Rennie, who worked in the sales and marketing division of Blackbaud in Glasgow, Scotland, couldn’t help himself. His mind would wander back to his playing days and the pursuit of his dream to one day become a soccer coach.
“I remember being torn between soccer and software,” Rennie laughed.
Rennie, the head coach of Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps, played at Blackbaud Stadium as a midfielder for the Charlotte Eagles. He figured he has been on the Blackbaud Stadium sidelines as a coach almost a dozen times. Watching the Whitecaps warm up before Wednesday’s match with the Chicago Fire at the Carolina Challenge Cup, the irony of being back at Blackbaud Stadium wasn’t lost on Rennie.
“I can still remember coming (to Charleston) and going to those meetings and really wanting to be on the pitch,” Rennie said. “I think it was just meant to be.”
Rennie, 37, is no overnight success. He paid his dues, coaching at every level of North American soccer to get to where he is today.
Rennie’s journey started back in Scotland where he worked fulltime in Blackbaud’s marketing division, but on weekends and during vacations he labored to get his coaching certification. Rennie’s sacrifice finally paid off in 2005. He was offered a job as the head coach for the Cascade Surge of the USL’s Premier Development League, in Salem, Ore. The only problem for Rennie was that he was still employed by Blackbaud and he couldn’t afford to quit his job. Rennie talked his boss into giving him a four-month “sabbatical” so he could pursue his passion.
“Not many companies would have let me do that and keep my job,” Rennie said.
Just 30 at the time, Rennie went to Oregon and led the Surge to a 13-3-2 record and a Northwest Division title.
“It was a great experience and really put me on the path to becoming a head coach,” Rennie said.
After the season was over, Rennie returned to Scotland and worked as a consultant for Blackbaud for the next few months. He still wasn’t sure he could make a go of it in soccer, but he wasn’t about to give up on his dream.
When the British arm of Ambassadors in Sport offered Rennie a job coaching the Cleveland City Stars in the USL’s Second Division, he sold everything he owned and moved to the United States.
“That’s when I made the full commitment to coaching,” Rennie said. “I jumped in with both feet. It’s difficult for some people to give up the house and cars and job to pursue their dreams. It certainly wasn’t easy for me, but it was something I felt I needed to do.”
He led the expansion Stars to the second best record in the league in 2007, winning their first nine games of the season. In 2008, the Stars won the USL-2 title. The Stars went 23-5-16 in two seasons with Rennie at the helm. He was named the USL2 coach of the year both seasons.
“It was kind of validation of everything I’d been working toward,” Rennie said.
Rennie spent the next three seasons with the Carolina RailHawks, where he won the American Soccer League championship in 2010.
It wasn’t long before Major League Soccer came calling. He had offers from a few MLS teams, but decided on Vancouver in October 2011. The Whitecaps were the worst team in the MLS (6-18-10) and with Rennie’s reputation for rebuilding teams, it seemed to be a perfect fit.
“The ownership group had a positive outlook and believed that things could get done here,” Rennie said. “They were opened minded and they were low-egos, but had very high confidence.”
In his first season at the helm, the Whitecaps went 12-13-8 and moved toward respectability. Rennie is hoping to build on the momentum the Whitecaps created in 2012 and make the postseason this year.