VANCOUVER — A marquee player, a new technical director and a scouting department to help coach Marc Dos Santos unearth previously undiscovered talent: These are some of the things Vancouver Whitecaps fans can look forward to in 2020.
Fans’ biggest question going into next season concerns the potential signing of a designated player. Vancouver has never before acquired a big name from Europe. For Dos Santos, introducing a player who will excite fans will be vital in building a team that can challenge for the playoffs. But, Dos Santos is unwilling to sign someone who does not fit his vision.
“It is not right, because when you build a team for two years, around a 35-year-old or 33-year-old guy — a big name just for the poster on the bus? Someone who plays just 15 out of 30 games? No, that is not what we are about,” Dos Santos said during a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Pro Soccer USA. “A team needs to have a certain identity. A team can’t fulfill its potential to the maximum when the DP is walking or not defending.”
But what is that soccer identity for the Whitecaps? Dos Santos calls the Red Bull global football conglomerate “an inspiration for me.” It is not the formations used by the various Red Bull teams that interest Dos Santos. The New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig all deploy different set-ups and tactical philosophies. Rather, Dos Santos’ admiration is centered on the type of players Red Bull clubs target, and he believes the Red Bull style of play and recruitment model is the foundation of how clubs should be built in the modern era.
“It needs to be players that are explosive, have endurance, who are fast, close down quickly and who recover quickly,” Dos Santos said. “That, right now, here, it’s non-negotiable. If you don’t have that, unfortunately, it’s going to be hard for you to be here.”
Dos Santos shut down any suggestion that Vancouver will scout certain leagues with similar styles to Major League Soccer, which theoretically would allow players a quicker transition to the league.
“We focused on eliminating the concept of the market and instead fully focus on the profile of the player,” Dos Santos said. “Is he explosive? Is he intense? Does he understand the way we want to play? If he fits that mold is going to fit the league.”
Going forward, Dos Santos can expect some help identifying that talent. Vancouver is in the process of hiring a sporting director who the head coach is “very excited about.” He would not disclose or confirm any names being considered for the job, only that co-owner Jeff Mallet is aiming for “somebody with a great amount of experience.”
“I see that that person needs to come with a hope in mind, to learn about the dynamics of the MLS,” Dos Santos said. “But what we need right now is somebody that would help the club get to the next level.”
Vancouver is also working to bolster its scouting department. The club now has three full-time scouts on board. Once the department is fully staffed, it will operate with the intention of reducing the head coach’s workload.
“You need to be proactive, not reactive,” Dos Santos said of scouting. “Right now, when I look at one position, I look at 50 guys, that just increases the workload of the coach. “We need to have scouts come to us and say: ‘Here are three guys that based on what you look for, the cap space available and the way you play, are available right now.'”
Vancouver has a history of taking a defensive approach to tactics. Once this rebuild is complete, Dos Santos wants his team to play with a more attractive style, even with a defensive foundation. He named Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp and Juventus’ Maurizio Sarri as inspirational managerial figures.
“Soccer is a theory of chaos,” Dos Santos said. “So, I believe more in principles. But you also need to allow some freedom and actions too, because football is too chaotic.”
Dos Santos would like to play in a 4-3-3 formation because he believes “the options for passing are better when we press.” But he also pointed at the fluidity of formations during individual games. RB Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann, for example, favors a 3-5-2, but the actual formation throughout 90 minutes can be more fluid.
“Formation for me is great for TV,” Dos Santos said with a smile. “You have to know why you use a certain formation.”
Overall, the coach is optimistic about 2020, even if he is not ready to predict when fans will see tangible results of his rebuild.
“There is a lot of things that we are doing now that will give us a better chance of being successful,” Dos Santos said. “But I can’t give you a date. I can’t tell you: ‘June 30, 2020, that is when we will have success.’ It doesn’t work that way.”