VANCOUVER – While the Vancouver Whitecaps don’t kick off their Major League Soccer season off until early March, fans are already eagerly waiting to see what the club looks like on the pitch following a disappointing 2018 campaign.
The team’s new manager feels the same way, too.
Marc Dos Santos and his staff kick off training camp this week in advance of the Whitecaps’ ninth season in MLS. This year also marks the 25th anniversary the Whitecaps winning the Soccer Bowl title in the old North American Soccer League.
Dos Santos, a 41-year-old native of Montreal, is attempting to write a new chapter in the city’s soccer history following an off-season that has seen the team undergo a major overhaul.
“It’s a big change for the club and a big change for the city when it comes to soccer,” Dos Santos told Sportsnet 650. “Different type of players, different type of dynamics. I’m very excited to get going and start training with the guys.”
Dos Santos comes to the Whitecaps after serving as an assistant coach under Bob Bradley in 2018 with Los Angeles FC. Hired by Vancouver this past November, he takes over from Carl Robinson who had been in charge the previous five seasons.
While Dos Santos and his new soccer operations department may not have turned many heads with their off-season moves, they have been quite active ins reshaping the roster. The club has acquired five new players, most recently Canadian central defender Derek Cornelius, who spent the last two seasons with FK Javor Ivanjica in the Serbian SuperLiga.
“It was a grind, the last 30 days. Everybody on the staff has done an incredible job of being committed to the recruiting process,” Dos Santos said. “It’s a necessary time if you want to limit mistakes and bring in the best possible players.”
Other new faces brought in by Dos Santos include Brazilin-born midfielder Victor “PC” Giro, who played 16 games over the last two seasons with Orlando City. As well, the club signed one-time Seattle Sounders midfielder Andy Rose, who most recently played in the Scottish Premier League with Motherwell, and goalkeepers Maxime Crepeau and Zac MacMath.
But if fans are expecting the club to make a big splash with their next signing, Dos Santos says that is highly unlikely.
“Are we going after a player like Wayne Rooney or Zlatan Ibrahimovic? No. I want to be very clear with that,” Dos Santos stated.
“We’ll be making an investment in some players that, for me, are big splashes when we look at the future and where the club is going. Are we going after whom I would consider big players who can stay long and be important to our future? Yes, absolutely we are.”
There is a good chance one or two players Dos Santos brings in will be expected to provide the Whitecaps with some much-needed offense and leadership. Dos Santos will start this season without last year’s MVP Alphonso Davies (sold to Bayern Munich), leading goal scorer Kei Kamara and attacking midfielder Nicolás Mezquida (both now with the Colorado Rapids) and captain Kendall Waston (traded to FC Cincinnati).
Last week, the Whitecaps announced they were cutting ties with their USL affiliate Fresno FC. Just a handful of Vancouver prospects played games for the club last season. Dos Santos feels it is best to have all of the up-and-comers play and train together in Vancouver. To that end, he’s hired former national team member Nick Dasovic to be coach of the newly formed Whitecaps Under-23 squad.
“For the moment, the plan is our development group plays 28-30 games,” Dos Santos explained. “Bringing Nick in to join our staff is calculated as we want to make sure we have the best coach possible around those kids. It’s great that they’re training next to us and close to the team.”
The Whitecaps will hold training camp in Vancouver until the end of the month before leaving for Hawaii to take part in the annual Pacific Rim Cup in Honolulu. After a pair of exhibition matches at Aloha Stadium, the club then heads to southern California for three pre-season matches against LA Galaxy, LAFC and Mexican side Club Tijuana.
Vancouver opens the 2019 MLS regular season at BC Place on March 2 when they host Minnesota United.