Despite nearly 5 months until the Vancouver Whitecaps play their next competitive game, that doesn’t mean that there will be any rest for head coach Marc Dos Santos, who doesn’t plan on slowing down much this winter.
It’s been but mere days since the Vancouver Whitecaps offseason kicked off, yet Marc Dos Santos has just ramped up his workload, as he and his staff look to improve a team coming off a rough MLS campaign. After coming into this year with expectations of contending for the playoffs and chasing a Voyageurs Cup title, the Whitecaps fell short of those goals, marking a rough start for Dos Santos’s head coaching career in MLS. Eliminated from the playoffs by September 1st, and out of the Voyageurs Cup in the quarter-finals at the hands of Canadian Premier League Cavalry, the Whitecaps quickly found themselves way behind where they hoped to be this year, so now they find themselves at a critical offseason juncture.
At the top of the to-do list is finding goals, with Vancouver’s offensive struggles being well documented through the campaign. Second-last for total goals for in MLS with 37, last in XG with 26.8 (as of October 3rd) and last in shots per game with 10.6, they have struggled to generate offence all year. Add to that being last in % of possession spent in the final 3rd with 23%, and 4th-worst in possession per game with 46.6, it’s been a frustrating offensive season by nearly every metric.
To remedy that, the Caps will have to find a way to get players that can both create more scoring chances and players who can finish those chances. In the first step to achieve those goals, Dos Santos has now hit the well-beaten recruiting trail, as he and his team have begun the long road to improving the Caps. Even though most would be enjoying some time off to enjoy the offseason, Dos Santos prefers to get ahead on their plans for 2020, so they can avoid the disappointments this year brought.
“I don’t have a week off until, and I’ll be very honest with my answer, until the 20th of January. I have a 15-day break with my family, from December 15th to January 2nd, that I’ll take totally off, but everything else from October 7th to January 20th is going to be 110% committed to making the team better,” Dos Santos told reporters on Saturday, after the last training session of the season had concluded.
“So that involves watching games, talking with agents, looking at profiles, travelling, there’s already travel booked, and we already started, Phil (Dos Santos, assistant coach) wasn’t on the bench against the Galaxy, so we’re very committed, and I said it, we feel a lot of responsibility to make us better.”
Dos Santos’s enthusiasm and hard work could also be seen as a bit of a poison pill for the Whitecaps fans, however. As fruitful as is drive and desire will surely be for the club in the long run, is it prudent to have him dive into this heavy block of work with the much-anticipated Sporting Director yet to arrive? With that person expecting to play a big role in aiding the Caps recruitment process, it will now be compelling to see if there are any clashes of ideas or philosophies with Dos Santos, especially if said person gets hired with the Caps already having a few new signings under their belt.
And the Caps have already reportedly kicked off that process, with news breaking via Sportsnet 650’s Dan Riccio yesterday that the Caps had contacted Chelsea striker and World Cup Champion Olivier Giroud, with the 33-year-old striker supposedly set on more glamorous American destinations. While that response is certainly not surprising, as most players coming from Europe do not regard Vancouver as a nice destination despite it being ranked among one of the best of the world, the signs of ambition from Vancouver are positive. If a Sporting Director can come in, especially one with a decent reputation with players in Europe, maybe Vancouver will be able to lure the kind of big-name talent fans have long been clamouring for.
Until we know who that director is, however, one cannot fault Dos Santos for the hard work he is doing. And while the hunt for a big-name and/or a big-money player is clearly underway, there are still many other kinds of players to acquire, with a couple of roster positions looking to be filled. With many different avenues to acquire quality talent in the complicated world of MLS roster construction, the Caps are going to be busy navigating the various channels available to them.
One such way that may prove to yield solid talent may be through the MLS Super Draft, an avenue that is certainly a lot less heralded than it was before, but still one that has shown to unearth quality talent nonetheless. When asked if he is still considering it as a viable method for the Caps to bring in some of the players they need this offseason, he seemed to still see it through a positive lens.
“We put some stock in (the draft). How much? Not as much as other major positions, but we are also working on that, and we have people in the club and with us and with the technical staff trying to see who’s going to be (available), especially the first draft pick from Vancouver,” Dos Santos said.
He added. “Because you could always get a Tristan Blackmon (LAFC) of this world, that is very important for a roster, a Mason Toye, that is very important for Minnesota, so of course we’re very careful with that, what we’ll try to do there is to get the best player possible, and not go to the draft in a mentality of ‘oh it needs to be a centre back, it needs to be a left back’, no, it needs to be the best player we can get from the draft.”
With their 1st draft pick expected to be a case of choosing the BPA (best player available), it may or may not influence the positions of the rest of the acquisitions that are made, but Dos Santos did share a bit of what to expect when asked.
“I don’t want to, and I never did,” Dos Santos said of targeting specific positions. “I never told you guys the specific positions we’re looking for, but we are doing a lot of work to try to bring the best player possible here to reinforce the team, and that means at least a player in every line, 2 players in every line of the field.”
By process of elimination, that would mean to expect 1 defender, 2 midfielders and 2 forwards, with maybe 1 player added to each of those totals. With Dos Santos saying Monday on SN650’s ‘Fine Lines’ that he expects to bring in 7 new players, those numbers would fall right into the wheelhouse of his expectations.
After a relatively positive end to the campaign, with 2 wins and 1 draw in the last 4 games, they are now just looking to ride some of that momentum into the busy offseason. With a good chunk of the squad expecting to stay around, unlike the great purge of last year, seeing how they finished the season should bring hope that last year can be different. How different? We do not know yet, but with 5 months of work to come, improvement should be on the horizon.
“We evaluate the negatives of this season and the positives of this season,” Dos Santos said. “And there’s a lot of things we take positive, and there are other things that, of course in a difficult season like that, that we evaluate, and we’re not happy with. But the big point, and the big positive thing that I take from the games is, from the last month I would say, is the (positive) mentality of the team, right after getting knocked out of the playoff spot.”
He added. “We didn’t look like a team that was knocked out and playing for anything, so that’s a positive thing I think.”