VANCOUVER, BC — It is official. With four games left to play this season, the Vancouver Whitecaps were eliminated from MLS playoff contention. What does that mean for Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos going forward this season and into the next?
“I’m thinking about it in the next three, four days,” Dos Santos said after the game. “For me, it is a situation that is new to not be in the playoffs or fighting for something in September. It is new, so I don’t know what to answer you.”
It is indeed a new situation for Dos Santos.
Before taking over Vancouver in the offseason, the 42-year-old had success at every level. To summarize, in the last four years Dos Santos was voted NASL coach of the year in 2015 after a successful season with the Ottawa Fury, reached the USL Cup with Swope Park Rangers in 2016, won the NASL title with San Francisco Delta and, as an assistant to Bob Bradley, helped guide LAFC to the playoffs during the club’s inaugural season.
Without a doubt, the 42-year-old knows how to build a winner. But in his first year in Vancouver, the process has taken longer than anywhere else Dos Santos has coached.
This season has been a steep learning curve for the 42-year-old.
During 30 games, the Whitecaps have averaged just 0.9 points per game. Furthermore, a week ago against the San Jose Earthquakes, the ‘Caps broke the record for the most shots conceded in a single MLS game and it was only thanks to an outstanding Maxime Crépeau effort in the goal that the game only ended 3-1.
The problem for the Whitecaps, however, is that shots against have regularly been in the double digits. Overall, the Whitecaps have conceded 549 shots against, more than any other club in the league, including last-place Cincinnati FC. Meanwhile, on the attacking side, only Cincinnati (272) have fired fewer shots than the Whitecaps (285).
“We are not going to continue like that in 2020,” Dos Santos said. “I believe a lot in the base. I believe in the team. But I also believe that we need to assess and to dedicate ourselves a lot to recruitment in the next two months.”
With that in mind, the Whitecaps announced the club has hired the consulting company Nolan Partners to help lead a search for a sporting director.
“I know the ownership is working very hard in that and is very committed,” Dos Santos said of the process.
Dos Santos arrived in Vancouver under the pretext there would be a sporting director to assist him with player recruitment. Instead, Dos Santos had to mostly rely on his coaching staff and Vancouver Vice President of Soccer Operations Greg Anderson when it came to player recruitment.
The result has been a mixed bag at best. The club needs to improve in every area the most pressing needs, a playmaker, striker and true Designated Player to replace Alphonso Davies, were never addressed.
At the same time, Dos Santos still carries his players’ trust.
“I salute Marc he puts in major days and major hours to transform a club,” Vancouver defender Doneil Henry said. “It is never going to be easy when you make this many changes within a season. Every club goes through its transition periods look at San Jose two years ago.”
Furthermore, tactically the Whitecaps showed glimpses of the sort of soccer that made Dos Santos one of the most desired coaching commodities in North America. There were games against D.C. United and LAFC, during which the Whitecaps collected points at home, and sometimes just moments of 20 minutes here and there, including against New York City FC on Saturday.
Those moments, however, were fleeting and never led to sustained success.
While there is no doubt that Dos Santos has the trust of the ownership and the players to move forward with the Whitecaps, once a technical director is hired, recruitment has to be spot on to appease a restless fanbase in a market starved for success.