Can incoming head coach Phillip Dos Santos help Valour FC’s attack find a little more bite in the last 10 games of the season? That’s certainly the plan.
Jokes and mid-2000s fiction references aside, though, the Montreal-born coach spoke in detail on Thursday afternoon as he held court with the media for the first time at IG Field, after he was announced as Valour’s new coach and general manager following Rob Gale’s departure. Having left the Vancouver Whitecaps along with his brother Marc just under a month ago, Dos Santos has hardly had time to decompress before embarking on this new journey — and yet, he finds himself immediately in the midst of a heated playoff race with his first test to be an away date with York United on Sunday.
In his first words of his introductory press conference, Dos Santos offered a picture of just how quickly this new adventure came along.
“It was very quick, I think it was a five, six day process,” he revealed. “I was sitting back home in Vancouver with the plans to just see how things would go in the offseason, take some time to be with my family, and we received the phone call with this opportunity sometime last week. It was one of those where, there’s 11 professional teams in reality in Canada, and just being at home, being in the Canadian market was something that for me and my family felt well.”
Dos Santos did add, though, that it’s always a “bittersweet” moment to take over a job in this fashion, replacing a coach like Gale who spent a long time in the Winnipeg community.
“I knew it would come with someone else being in a situation that’s more difficult and more complex, but I realized on that day that had it been me or someone else, when an organization is set on making a change you have to understand that it’s part of the process. I tried to keep that to the side and think about what was best for me professionally.”
The 43-year-old coach has seen a lot in the footballing world, with many years working at clubs like the Whitecaps, Ottawa Fury, and other sides around North America, as well as a long time coaching youth teams in the Canadian national team setup. However, this is his first job at the helm of a club — most of his previous tenures have been as an assistant to his brother, with the two often coming as a package deal in the past.
This time, though, the younger Dos Santos felt the time was right for him to take the next step on his own. He pointed out that, really, there are only 11 professional head coaching gigs in Canada right now — eight in the CPL and three in MLS — and so he was keen to seize the opportunity at Valour.
“It was clear in my head that I wanted the next move,” he said, revealing that he’d had discussions with other clubs in the past that suggested to him it was time to take such a step on his own.
“I felt this was the time for me. I believe that I’m a better person at 43 for this job, more prepared, more experienced. I’ve seen more, not only in the job but also in my management of people but how to go and get the maximum out of individuals.”
"There's quality in this group… There's a foundation that'd been built.
New coach Dos Santos on @ValourFootball's squad ahead of #CanPL playoff push. pic.twitter.com/wdKOWw3b0e
— Marty Thompson (@martythompson_) September 23, 2021
Although this has all been a bit of a whirlwind, Dos Santos seemed already quite focused on Valour. He spoke with the players earlier on Thursday afternoon, admitting that it was an emotionally trying day for the squad. Acknowledging that it’s likely to be a difficult time for the group after Gale’s departure, Dos Santos explained that he had deliberately kept his chat with the players brief with plenty of time still to come.
Still, the incoming coach shared a little of his immediate temperature check and message to the team that remains very much alive in the playoff hunt.
“The energy seemed there, the desire’s there, and I think that they need to feel the responsibility as part of this organization that there’s objectives that were set at the beginning of this season,” Dos Santos said. “We’re still on track for those objectives, so we all need to embrace the responsibility that we have and try to get across that line and make it up. I feel that when there’s a situation like this it’s not only the coach, there’s little things that we probably all have to work on, and I want players to also feel that responsibility.
“If we haven’t met, or checked all the boxes that led the club being where they come to a decision like this, why did that happen and what do we do going forward? And I want them to realize that there’s part of that responsibility in them but also go with confidence that we’re still in the run.”
Valour’s 10-game march to the finish line begins this Sunday at York Lions Stadium, when they take on the team directly above them (and currently holding onto that fourth playoff spot). With very little time to adjust to the new setting and squad, Dos Santos nonetheless affirmed that his primary intention is to get the club into that playoff picture, while certainly keeping an eye on the broader scale and helping set them up for success in the long run.
Dos Santos revealed that he’s quite familiar with the CPL already, indicating that he’s been impressed with the league’s growth and the way it managed the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, he saw CPL opposition first-hand in the Canadian Championship twice, having been on the sidelines for Vancouver’s loss to Cavalry FC in 2019 and Pacific FC last month, and Dos Santos said he was excited by the quality he saw.
Now, though, is not the time to compare leagues; his main focus over the next few weeks is to beat fellow CPL sides, and Dos Santos explained that he fully intends to get Valour to the same consistent level as the teams at the top of the league.
“It’s a very competitive league,” he said. “There’s teams that have been consistent, you’re talking about Forge and Pacific, they’re tough teams to play against. We understand that there’s something they have, and it’s continually finding rhythm, being able to connect wins, and that’s what we need to do over here. I think that I’m a methodic guy, I’m someone who understands the realities of the sport. I know how to get the maximum out of individuals, I believe in that, and I have to go with the confidence that we’re able to take the team to the next level.”
That journey to the next level begins this Sunday afternoon.