What does the future hold for this Whitecaps team and this coach?
Well, that can probably be split into three separate time frames. The short, medium and long term, with each of them presenting their own unique challenges.
The Short Term- It’s theoretically possible that a comfortable win over the Chicago fire on Thursday would see the Whitecaps progress to the knockout stage of the MLSisBack tournament.
But words like “comfortable”, “win” and even “progress” don’t really come to mind when thinking of this team right now.
So the sole aim for that game has to be to demonstrate some level of organization. Yes, Vancouver have been hamstrung by the absence of crucial players, but a team in that situation has to control the things it can control.
And that includes the basics such as defending set-pieces, playing as a unit and just doing the simple things correctly.
It’s a frequent post-game lament of Dos Santos that his players didn’t do what he wanted them to do. They sat too deep, they didn’t press high enough up the field, they didn’t track runners.
The coaching staff have to solve the problem of why their instructions are so often unheeded or this team can’t move forward at all. Maybe it’s a matter of communication? Maybe it’s about the character of the players? Maybe it’s about on the field leadership? (More on this later.)
The Medium Term- If we are thinking about the remainder of this season then we don’t know what to think. The Canadian government (rightly) hasn’t allowed the Blue Jays to play home games in MLB, so it’s inconceivable they will allow Canadian MLS teams to do the same.
That means that, if MLS pushes ahead with the season, the Whitecaps will have to station themselves south of the border (Hard to believe the players will agree to this) or “hope” that MLS arranges another tournament in lieu of league play.
That probably leaves the still to be arranged Canadian Championship as the sole arena of competitive football and failure to perform well in that competition will be hard to recover from or explain away.
In essence it’s more likely than not that this squad will effectively lose a season of development.
The Long Term- Nobody would blame the players who opted out of the tournament in Florida for their decision. Indeed, if the team as a whole had decided not to travel it would have been more than understandable. Probably sensible.
But soccer players are human beings. More than that, they are competitive athletes who don’t like to lose.
So, while sitting next to each other in a relaxed team meeting it may well be easy to keep the bond going and the emotions in check, it’s more than likely that in a heated training ground confrontation, or a game that’s going awry, accusations will be unthinkingly thrown.
“Where the **** were you in Florida?”, “You sure this is safe enough for you?” etc. etc.
Throw in the fact that most of the players who elected not to travel were both senior and the best remunerated and it’s not hard to imagine divides occurring if things go (metaphorically) south.
It’s also true that the group of players who did travel and went through the whole debacle will always have that shared experience to discuss and to joke about.
The whole situation is a recipe for cliques and resentments that will be extremely tough to curtail.
So, in the near, medium and long term, Marc Dos Santos needs to get his ideas across more effectively, organize the team more efficiently and develop an atmosphere that makes use of leadership from senior players who may have (even if subconsciously) lost some of their standing among their juniors.