Marc Dos Santos adjusts tie - Vancouver Whitecaps

The Vancouver Whitecaps section of the league-wide transactions page is a bit of an anomaly. 

With 21 players out and 18 in, the club didn't just attempt a rebuild, they ripped up the soil and planted new roots. It was as close to an expansion offseason as a non-expansion side can get, but without the blessing of a blank canvas to paint. They had to work as hard on outgoings as incomings. 

Before all the roster upheaval, the club hired Marc Dos Santos to lead the Whitecaps forward, which may have been their most important recruit. The well-traveled Canadian was well-respected around the league, with stints in the lower tiers of North American soccer, as well as various roles and stops in Brazil. In 2018, he was an assistant on Bob Bradley's LAFC staff in their expansion season. 

For someone who had been at 10 different clubs since 2007, who better to manage a brand new roster than Dos Santos?

“It’s been fantastic, I’m not a guy who does easy projects," Dos Santos told Tuesday. "Red carpet is not my DNA, it’s not who I am. I’m not a guy that cries about things: I feel I’m a guy that’s chosen for tough things. I love that. ... It’s incredible to see what you’re made of, what type of person you are, what your message is like with the group and your day-to-day when things are difficult, you understand? This is the part that I like.”

The Whitecaps haven't gotten off to a flying start – they have six points from their first nine matches – but growing pains were to be expected. Twelve of the 18 players acquired joined after preseason started on January 22, leaving Dos Santos with a depleted squad for his first training sessions.

Dos Santos called it his "worst preseason as a coach," meaning Vancouver began 2019 still in preseason form. They lost their opening three matches, conceding seven goals. The outlook has since changed.

The club have taken six points from their last six games – not great, but better – while looking like one of the best defensive units in the league, conceding just five times. It's made all the more impressive considering they faced Western Conference powers LAFC, LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders over that stretch. 

“When we look at our model, what we want to build, I’m happy with our defensive organization," Dos Santos said. "Our principals without the ball, it’s been something solid. … We’re very competitive, we’re in every game.”

Dos Santos pointed to structure, discipline and – something the club hasn't had much of since last season – continuity.

Erik Godoy and Doneil Henry have started every match of the season together at center back, while Ali Adnan has started the last six matches at left back since being acquired on loan in March.

"The teams that succeed have a lot of stability in the back four," Dos Santos said. "Another thing that is important is collective principals without the ball. Where do we set our line to press? When we press, what do we look like when our block is defending in our own half? These are things we work a lot in training.”

Henry, in particular, has shone bright over the first quarter of the season. 

“Yes," Dos Santos answered without hesitation when asked if Henry could be a Best XI-caliber defender in MLS. "If Doneil keeps on working and understanding what we want, playing inside the principals of our team, Doneil has all the physical and mental tools to succeed. He’s getting to an age with more maturity, it’s player that – knock on wood – has not gotten injured. He’s a player that trained from day one. He’s in a good spot."

Whenever Dos Santos spoke about something that was going well, whether it was defensive structure or Henry's form, he quickly would transition to where, and how, the club could improve. Coaching never stops for Dos Santos, especially not when talking to media. 

The points would all lead in the same direction: the final third. 

“When we get in the opponent’s half, how are we growing offensively?" Dos Santos asked rhetorically. "What types of weapons do we have, what types of players do we have? It’s something that’s taking, unfortunately, longer and it’s something that we’re still evaluating where we are as a club.”

There, too, positive developments can be observed without looking too hard. Inbeom Hwang has been every bit as good as advertised in the middle of the park, with the Young Designated Player deployed in multiple spots. 

Hwang has mostly featured in the middle, though there was a stretch in which he played as a hybrid winger/No. 10. The South Korean would be on the left flank out of possession, then come inside underneath the forward when the Whitecaps had the ball. 

Dos Santos has other plans for the 22-year-old, though. 

Inside Marc Dos Santos' obsession with Whitecaps rebuild

"Inbeom needs to be in a position that he’s on the ball. ... We’ve played him in that hybrid winger coming inside [role] but we felt for him to play like that, he needs to be in a team that has a lot of possession," Dos Santos explained. "An exaggerated type of possession that allows him to be inside a lot, but this is not us at the moment so we’re trying to maximize all the qualities he has as a player.”

Other than Hwang, the new attackers haven't quite hit the ground running. Goals have been hard to come by from Fredy Montero (1g/0a in 525 minutes), Lucas Venuto (0g/0a in 353 minutes), Lass Bangoura (1g/0a in 292 minutes) and Young DP Joaquin Ardaiz (0g/0a in 202 minutes), whose training habits have been criticized by Dos Santos.

It means the club are still looking for another attacker. 

“We’re trying something before [the Primary Transfer Window deadline on May 7], but it’s not all in our control," Dos Santos said. "We feel there’s a need there; that’s not a secret for nobody, it’s not shocking for nobody. It’s a piece we’re missing and we’re trying to become better.”

Just as Dos Santos knew, it was never going to be easy.