The Vancouver Whitecaps have fired head coach Marc Dos Santos in the midst of a roller-coaster season.
The club announced the move in a press release on Friday, saying assistant coach Phil Dos Santos was also relieved of his duties.
Whitecaps director of methodology Vanni Sartini will lead the team as acting head coach. Assistant coach Ricardo Clark and goalkeeper coach Youssef Dahha will remain in their posts, the team said.
The Whitecaps were at the bottom of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference standings early this season after losing five straight games but have rebounded of late and are riding an eight-game undefeated streak in MLS play.
Last season, the Whitecaps were three points below the playoff bar, missing the post-season for the third year in a row.
Dos Santos, 44, was in the final year of his contract with Vancouver. He took over as coach in November 2018 after spending a year as an assistant with upstart Los Angeles FC.
The Montreal-born coach repeatedly said the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were difficult for the Whitecaps, who were forced to finish the 2020 campaign based out of Portland and have been playing home games in Sandy, Utah this year.
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Living away from his family took a personal toll, Dos Santos said.
“It’s not easy. It’s not easy for the staff, it’s not easy for the players,” he said. “And of course it’s easier when you win a lot, but when you don’t, it makes it even more difficult, for sure.”
Despite the club’s poor record this year, Dos Santos said he didn’t feel as if he were under pressure. He maintained that real pressure would come from not being able to feed his family, or having cancer or a brain tumour.
“Pressure of getting fired? It’s part of every coach’s pathway, you know? It’s even important for a coach on his pathway to get fired,” he said on June 24, the day after Vancouver dropped a 2-1 decision to the L.A. Galaxy for a fifth straight loss.
“I never got fired in my life. So I think it’s an important step on your pathway as a coach to grow. So I don’t feel pressure, I feel frustration.”
Before joining MLS, Dos Santos worked with the San Francisco Deltas of the North American Soccer League, where he earned manager of the year honours in 2017. He also guided the Ottawa Fury to the NASL final in 2015, his second and final year with the squad.
‘Divided’ locker-room, decimated roster were challenges
Weeks before Dos Santos took over the ‘Caps squad, players and the team’s general manager said the group suffered from a “divided” locker-room — an issue that grew after coach Carl Robinson and his staff were fired mid-season.
Dos Santos said he knew he was arriving at a “difficult moment” for the club, and acknowledged that creating change and forming a new identity wouldn’t be easy.
“It’s not a PowerPoint presentation to the players or a motivational speaker or Harry Potter with a wand and now we have culture. That’s done in the day-to-day, every day,” he told reporters at his first press conference as the Whitecaps’ head coach.
The dual Canadian-Portuguese citizen was also tasked with rebuilding a decimated roster after the team parted ways with 20 players following the 2018 season.
Dos Santos scoured the globe for talent, bringing in the first Iraqi international (left back Ali Adnan) and the first Tunisian (centre back Jasser Khmiri) to play in MLS.
He said the overhaul was already in motion when he took up his post, but conceded that the drastic changes took a toll during his first season at the helm.
“We were not ready to switch the roster too much,” Dos Santos said. “We acted like an expansion team, while not having all the treasures and the things of an expansion team.”
The Whitecaps finished the 2019 campaign with a dismal 8-16-10 record, and were ousted from the Canadian Championship when they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Canadian Premier League’s Cavalry FC.
Schuster and Sartini were scheduled to hold a media availability later Friday.
The Whitecaps also hired former New York Knicks executive Mark Pannes as CEO in January 2020, but in June, he was let go just six months into his four-year contract.
Vancouver brought in new on-field talent, too, signing Toronto-born forward Lucas Cavallini to a designated player contract.
The 27-year-old striker had proven to be a goal scorer for Mexican side Club Puebla. Cavallini initially struggled in MLS before finishing the 2020 season as the club’s top scorer with six goals.