A bright red line will soon go on display in the Vancouver Whitecaps locker room, marking a shift in culture under the club’s new head coach.
The Whitecaps announced Wednesday that Marc Dos Santos has been appointed to lead the team through 2021. The 41-year-old Montreal native has spent 12 years coaching professional soccer, most recently as an assistant for Major League Soccer club Los Angeles FC.
In each coaching role, Dos Santos has drawn a red line on a board to mark the split between teams bound for the post-season and those that are not, then posted the board in the dressing room before the season kicks off.
“The first thing that’s going to be clear with players is that we have to be above that line every day,” Dos Santos said at a press conference on Wednesday.
The Whitecaps finished the season with a 13-13-8 record, two spots out of a playoff position.
Some players and the team’s general manager have said a “divided” locker room caused problems on the field, and that the issue grew after the organization fired coach Carl Robinson and his staff in late September.
Veteran Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert and defender Doneil Henry said last week that some of their teammates hadn’t been playing with the club’s interests in mind.
The team’s captain, Kendall Waston, also announced that he wants to leave Vancouver and has asked his agent to find him a new place to play.
“There were things that happened in the past locker room that were very good, others that were not so good. I’m here to try and change it and try to bring it to another level,” Dos Santos said.
Creating a new culture and identity isn’t easy, he added.
“It’s not a Power Point presentation to the players or a motivational speaker or Harry Potter with a wand and now we have culture. That’s done in the day-to-day, every day.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Dos Santos said he’s looking forward to his new role with the ‘Caps.
“We all share the same vision and the same passion, that is to grow this club into a championship team. That’s in my DNA. It’s a dream for me to be in a club and right away be thinking ‘How can we win titles?’ … I just want to start working,” he said.
Dos Santos previously worked with the San Francisco Deltas of the North American Soccer League, where he earned manager of the year honours in 2017. He also guided the Ottawa Fury to the NASL final in 2015, his second and final year with the squad.
His track record of winning in a variety of circumstances is part of what earned him the Whitecaps role, said general manager Bob Lenarduzzi.
“For us as a club, we wanted someone who was like minded,” he said. “We believe that we can win a championship and we wanted someone to come in and feel the same way.”
The coach stood out from other “big names” up for the job because of his strong character, his clear plan for the team and his open mind about the future, said ‘Caps co-owner Jeff Mallett.
“He’s here because he’s the right coach and the right person to take us forward,” Mallett said.
“There’s a heck of a lot of work to do, but I feel confident that we’ve re-aligned, got ourselves going and have the right person in the middle of it to get us there.”
Dos Santos now begins the process of hiring assistant coaches and making decisions about the roster.
He said he has an idea of who he wants on his staff, but will speak with management about specific names in the coming days.
The new coach also plans to sit down with each of the players currently under contract or options with the club. While it would be great to sign a big-name multimillion-dollar player, Dos Santos said his focus has always been on getting the most out of the talent that’s already available.
“In my career, I’ve always focused on maximizing what I have,” he said. ”You waste a lot of energy, sometimes, talking about what the others have.”
Dos Santos will also work closely with Whitecaps FC Academy director Craig Dalrymple, who stepped in as coach for the final five games of the season.
Last season, the club agreed to a record-breaking transfer deal with German soccer giant Bayern Munich for star midfielder Alphonso Davies, who worked his way through the Whitecaps development program.
The team also has promising young talent in 16-year-old midfielder Simon Colyn, who made his debut with the MLS team in the Whitecaps final game of the season.
The opportunity to develop homegrown talent is part of what drew Dos Santos — who has dual Canadian and Portuguese citizenship — to Vancouver.
“I have a passion towards this country,” he said. “It’s the country that gave me a chance to start my career. I have a dream of seeing this country grow in the soccer world.”
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press