A lot has changed for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the past 24 hours.
Following the club’s 4-3 loss at the hands of Pacific FC Thursday night, Marc Dos Santos is officially out as the Whitecaps head coach.
It’s been a move which was rumoured at many points throughout the year, and with the team lagging behind expectations, especially in terms of play style, it was fair to wonder what the future held for the Canadian manager with his contract running out at the end of the season.
Sat in the press box last night at Westhills (just a few seats away from the Whitecaps team box), I was able to witness the reactions of Axel Schuster, Greg Anderson and Jeff Mallett firsthand as the calamity unfolded. To be honest, based on their reactions at the time, I was a bit surprised that Dos Santos ever made it back to the team bus, let alone all the way to the training facility in Vancouver this morning, before he was told he had been relieved of his duties.
In the big picture, I don’t think there can be much debate that this is the best move for both sides.
Dos Santos’ tenure in Vancouver was riddled by inconsistency, not only in his team’s performances on the pitch, but also due to the circumstances surrounding the team. 2019 saw unprecedented roster turnover with no formal scouting staff, and 2020 and 2021 were both COIVD affected, as well as complicated by the integration of Pannes (briefly), Schuster, and the new scouting staff (this year).
At the same time, it’s obvious that Dos Santos still has some learning to do as a head coach in MLS. His tactics often lacked complexity, and catered far too much to the strengths of the opponent, rather than his own team. In game adjustments also left something to be desired, especially when it came to using substitutes and seeing out the dying moments of a match.
His man management also fell short at certain critical moments. While Dos Santos was idolized in the lower leagues for his inspirational mentality, he struggled to deal with some of the more outspoken personalities he encountered with the Whitecaps such as Ali Adnan and Fredy Montero, and his communication with young players was inconsistent, alienating critical youngsters such as Derek Cornelius and Theo Bair.
This parting of ways should give Dos Santos some valuable time to reflect on his coaching, and I have no doubt that his determination and passion for the game will drive him to improve and continue a successful coaching career in MLS, unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be here in Vancouver. As I said earlier on twitter, his firing sparks mixed emotions for me, as it’s difficult to separate the man from the manager in moments like this.
Such mixed feelings with this news. MDS is a phenomenal person and was always great to chat with. Even so, I think this is the right move for both parties, too much scar tissue from these last couple years. #VWFC https://t.co/Gf0q9s1UWt— Samuel Rowan (@samuel_rowboat) August 27, 2021
Circling back to the future of the Whitecaps, there will be a lot of heavy lifting to do in the coming months, as the club will simultaneously be looking to push for a playoff spot as well as start their search for a new manager.
Axel Schuster’s comments from his press conference earlier today suggested that he had yet to start the search, and those comments have drawn into question if this was an anticipated decision, or one sprung upon him by ownership in an attempt to maintain dignity after an embarrassing moment for the club.
While I think that Schuster had likely already decided that he wanted to go in another direction at the end of this season, there could very well be some validity to ownerships’ emotional reactions following the loss to Pacific accelerating that timeline. Schuster, in my estimation, is not a man who makes “knee-jerk” decisions, and this one feels a bit knee-jerk to me, even if it’s the right move at the end of the day.
I have a lot of faith in Vanni Sartini as a football mind, he’s a very thoughtful coach and a wonderful personality to be around, so I hope that the club will do everything they can to help him hit the ground running in his interim role. As suggested today at the press conference, we are unlikely to see any drastic changes at the weekend, but the rest of the season could be very interesting in trying to evaluate this group of players, as well as the remaining coaching staff.
Finally, as this is supposed to be a report card, I’m going to hand out some grades for certain people in the Whitecaps organization over the last couple of days, so here we go:
Ryan Gauld (9.0) : No matter who is coaching this team, it’s always nice to know that you have a nuclear weapon in your arsenal. Despite all the negativity around the club, the Scotsman looks like a signing that was worth the wait.
Axel Schuster (7.0) : This may not be massively popular, but Axel has (in my opinion) taken very few false steps so far in his Whitecaps tenure. Most of the signings he’s had his hands on have been a success, and he’s done a good job rounding out the front office (at least in the spots he can change). My confidence in his ability to find a suitable manager is very high.
Marc Dos Santos (2.5) : There’s a certain irony in the fact that Dos Santos spent much of this season talking about the need for an attacking midfielder and the importance of playing matches at home. Now that the Whitecaps have finally found some stability in both those areas, Dos Santos won't be around to carry out what he spoke of so often.
This has been the issue with MDS in Vancouver from day one, really. His ability to explain what he wanted to do always exceeded his ability to deliver it. While Dos Santos can certainly feel hard done by at many moments during his Whitecaps tenure, there were no excuses for the performance on Thursday.
Ownership et al. (1.0) : It’s difficult to speak positively of a group that demands accountability from its employees but offers very little in return. Certain members of the organisation, ones in key roles, continue to keep their jobs despite the significant culture problem this club has experienced from top to bottom since entering MLS. Whenever you speak to people who have worked for the club, it’s clear this is an issue that extends well beyond the first team staff, and won’t be fixed by a simple coaching change.