VANCOUVER, B.C. — The 2019 season was a challenging one for Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos, but one which he feels has seen the club finish in a better place than where it was at when he took over a year ago.
Dos Santos knew he "had to pay the price" this past season in order to try and build a proper culture at the club moving forward. It was a heavy price, as not only did Vancouver miss out on the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, they finished dead last in the Western Conference.
It wasn’t where Dos Santos hoped or thought the club would be one year into his tenure, but the 'Caps coach said last week he was excited by what the future holds in store for the team.
"There was a mix of frustration and a huge learning process," is how Dos Santos says he looks back on his first season in charge. "I arrived here in a club that was in maybe the worst moment of their history because there was way too many things happening if you look at the season on the field and off the field."
Dos Santos arrived at a club without a nucleus of players, describing it as "an empty hole," with key personnel such as captain Kendall Waston and 2018 leading scorer Kei Kamara not returning. He had limited time to build his roster at a club without a sporting director to help the head coach with recruitment.
He has slowly been able to put a new process in place. The Whitecaps’ extensive search for their first-ever sporting director ended this week with the unveiling of ex-Schalke 04 executive Axel Schuster. Dos Santos has three scouts on the ground, and he wants to add a head to that department as the crucial link between them all.
"When I arrived here, I know I challenged a lot of people to think about this as a club," Dos Santos revealed. "There was kind of a head of recruiting but not a real department. My valuation of that head of recruiting that was in place and the process, my valuation was very low.
"Now, we're going to have a head of recruiting and a sporting director that's going to take a lot off the head coach, because I need to focus on the field and on the players and that wasn't the case this year. I focused way too much on things outside the field."
Dos Santos and his management team have already traveling extensively this offseason, with transfer targets in South America, Europe and Asia. He also has a scout at the Africa U-23 Cup of Nations tournament currently taking place in Egypt.
"We're focusing a lot on the profile of the player and what MLS is about," Dos Santos said. "MLS is a league that has a lot of transition, a lot of balls lost and running back at high speed. It's not a compact type of game and we need players that have the ability to do that.
"When you have a look at the Argentine first division, as an example, you see a game that's more like that. Very men-oriented, high-speed running, a lot of transition, and that's why sometimes players from there adapt faster to MLS than any other players."
The Whitecaps now have something of a core to build around, particularly on the defensive side. What’s clearly been missing are the impact players up front and the crucial midfield links that will also put in a defensive shift.
"In the attack, we're still looking for those key difference makers," Dos Santos stated. "This team needs two major attacking players. We need to add a No. 9 and a winger. We need at least one major midfielder, and if possible, depending on some moves and if the cap allows, another one. And we need another defender. For me, we need a minimum of five important players."
Dos Santos is looking at all his options to make some moves with the league happen, alluding to "some of our pieces that are high-value in the eyes of other clubs that maybe we think we can move," and this week TSN’s Kristian Jack reported that center back Doneil Henry is set to be sold to an Asian club.
Whatever happens, Dos Santos is keen to assure fans that the club will be busy, looking to constantly improve, not just in this transfer window, but beyond.
"The improvement that we're going to have in three transfer windows are going to be significant in my opinion," he said. "After this one, if we're able to do what I imagine we can do, it's going to be very good, but it's not easy to go from where we were. It's hard. We're working on it. I've spoken to important players but that doesn't mean that we're going to end up getting them."