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What Will Marc Dos Santos’ Whitecaps Look Like? | Part 1: Tactics

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It is now confirmed that Marc Dos Santos will be the next manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps. We know he’s been successful at lower level clubs but what will a team coached by Marc Dos Santos actually look like on the field?

In a 2015 interview with Carlos Verde, Dos Santos touched on some of his tactical philosophies. The managers he discussed were Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola, and Marcelo Bielsa. Dos Santos said he has often been forced to resort to the more pragmatic style of Heynckes due to the financial realities of playing in a lower division. He said of Guardiola that his style was extremely effective but it was also unique and very difficult to emulate. Lastly he said that if there were no restrictions placed on him he’d choose to have his team play like the Chile of Bielsa. While all three of these managers have played various formations there are a few common elements that we can expect to see. All three of these employ pressing. Dos Santos mentions in the interview that the 2014 Ottawa Fury had a “3 second rule” where if they lost the ball they’d try to win it back in 3 seconds and if they didn’t they’d regroup. Dos Santos explains that the Ottawa team of 2014, which was composed mostly of players brought in on free transfers, had a number of slow players and thus he had to limit the team to 3 seconds to avoid being exposed. However he also said he felt with two or three more additions he could get the team pressing for up to 8 seconds. Thus, with Dos Santos basically needing to bring in a whole new team, I'd expect a lot of quick midfielders to be signed. All three of those managers also try and maintain possession to varying degrees.

In terms of actual formation Dos Santos has most frequently employed a 4-3-3 formation. However after his San Francisco Deltas side were soundly beaten 7-0 by Miami F.C., he switched to a 3-5-2 formation and won the league (and got revenge on Miami along the way, beating them 3-0). So the question is if he’ll return to a 4-3-3 or if he will stick with the 3-5-2. Dos Santos has said if he had his way he’d emulate Bielsa’s Chile team, and he should have a fair degree of freedom to design his team with so many players being out of contract. Bielsa’s Chile played a very aggressive 3-3-1-3. The first line of three are centre backs, then two wing backs with a holding midfielder, then a playmaker, then 3 strikers. This tactic involves throwing a huge number of players forward to overwhelm the opposition defence. If you watch this highlights package of 2009 World Cup qualifying you will see that Chile regularly has four or five attacking players in the box.

Dos Santos will be able to bring in quite a few of his own players so it’s very possible he tries to replicate this system, but it may be too ambitious for the less tactically astute players of MLS; at least in the first year. Thus, it’s probably more likely we see either a 4-3-3 or a 3-5-2 in the first year while still maintaining the principles of pressing high, getting lots of players forward, and keeping possession.

In both formations there would be a midfield three with one more holding player and two more attacking midfielders. There would also be full backs/wing backs that are very aggressive getting forward.

At both Ottawa Fury and the San Francisco Deltas, Dos Santos had former Whitecaps target man Tommy Heinemann. This naturally meant quite a bit of crossing, though with more build up than Carl Robinson had the Whitecaps doing. For example here is a goal the Deltas scored against North Carolina. It is off a cross but there is a methodical build up to the cross to allow Deltas to get players into the box and they don’t just smash it in at the first chance.

With MDS having a much bigger budget than previously it will be interesting to see if he persists with a big target man or goes for a more technical striker (or, dare I say it, a false 9).

In terms of weaknesses, based on the highlights I’ve watched, it looks as though due to the high press Dos Santos’ teams were sometimes opened up for some scrambling moments at the back. That being said his teams didn’t actually concede that many goals so perhaps that’s not an accurate reading.

In the next parts I will examine what sort of players Dos Santos may look to bring in and how he might utilize the players that are already here. I apologize in advance for a bunch of Brazilian and Portuguese players being linked to the ‘Caps by terrible rumour sites.