J.J. Adams: Sleepless nights for winless Whitecaps coach may not end against L.A.

Everywhere Marc Dos Santos has been, he’s been a winner.

He joined SE Palmeiras as youth academy coordinator in 2012, and after being “destroyed” in the media who derided his hiring and likened him to a clueless donkey, he led the Brazilian club’s U-15s to their inaugural Copa do Brasil championship.

He has won titles in the USL and NASL, the last championship with the San Francisco Deltas in 2017 marking his third consecutive championship appearance as a head coach — and all with different teams.

Joining Los Angeles FC under coach Bob Bradley in the lead-up to the club’s expansion 2018 season, he helped the team make history. They had the most points (57), most road wins (seven) by an expansion team, and became just the fifth club to make the playoffs in their first season.

But history has not repeated itself in Vancouver.

At 0-4-2, the winless Whitecaps are off to their worst start in team history, even surpassing their own Major League Soccer expansion year, when they had a win and three ties by the same point.

They have just five goals, and have more points than only the Portland Timbers (0-5-1) — who have yet to play a home game this season.

Predictably, for those who have interacted with him, Dos Santos was blunt and forthright when asked about it Tuesday: it’s by far the worst moment of his soccer career.

“But if you’re going to preach ‘walk the walk,’ you need to go through moments like this,” said the 41-year-old. “In 10 years, I’ve won a lot. And now it’s been a moment where it’s more difficult, and it teaches me how to be in front of the players, the staff, and what kind of person I am in moments like that.

“It’s easy to be a winner. I’ve lived it. At the top … everything seems right.”

But when you’re at the bottom — and the odds say they will be after hosting a fire-breathing and league-leading LAFC team Wednesday night at B.C. Place Stadium — nothing goes your way. Not even luck.

The Whitecaps have been victimized far beyond their lot in video replay calls this year, getting four penalty kicks called against them, and having one for them rescinded. Of the four against, two the league officials issued apologizes for. A third, which cost them a win Friday in Chicago, was based on inconclusive replays and a VAR process that didn’t appear to be followed.

It was a painful experience to have that first win snatched away in the final moments, although ironically it was the team’s worst performance of the year.

“I’m very hungry to make this grow and to make this club better,” said Dos Santos. “It’s sleepless nights and grinding. Some things (wrong) that you see … don’t worry, I see these things also.”

LAFC comes into B.C. Place as the class of MLS, topping the charts in points (19), goals (21) goals against (five) and the only undefeated record (6-0-1). At the helm is Bradley, the winningest active coach in MLS, and the patriarch of America’s leading soccer family.

Bradley and vice-president John Thorrington — a former Whitecap — put the final touches on the club’s construction. Dos Santos kept a keen eye on the process.

“The biggest thing I learned there is … that was a club that did everything right,” he said, listing the choice of the stadium location, the decision to sign a Mexican star (Carlos Vela) in the heavily Latino community, the quality in training and philosophies, among others.

“When we talk in the office about how close we can get to that, there are things we can do, but there are things we can get close. If I was (2020 entry) Nashville, I’d go and spend two weeks in LAFC and say ‘how did you do it?’”

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In Vancouver, if you subtract Homegrown rookies Theo Bair and Thomas Hasal, along with SuperDraft signee Brendan McDonough, the Whitecaps brought in 15 new players. Twenty-one went out the door, including their two top scorers in Alphonso Davies and Kei Kamara.

It was a massive undertaking, and one Dos Santos doesn’t regret taking on, even with his team’s current record.

“When I left LAFC, I had the opportunity to go to other places, or to stay in L.A. and wait for the right job … that’s all B.S. in my opinion. If you have an opportunity, you take it,” he said.

“It’s wrong to say (we’re) an expansion team. That’s one of the things I learned at LAFC. It’s easier to build an expansion team than to rebuild a team.

“The expansion draft was great. Benny Feilhaber, Walker Zimmerman, Latif Blessing … they’re there and it’s like a vitrine … or a buffet. You say ‘OK, I pick four — I’ll take this guy, this guy and this guy.’ With us, that wasn’t the case.

“In a rebuild, it’s very difficult to get guys (within) the league. It’s almost easier to go outside than to go in the league. That was one of the challenges.”

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Bradley has watched from afar as his former prodigy stumbled out of the gate, but doesn’t think the lack of success will last.

“It’s obvious the start of the season has been difficult. But he’s been through tough situations when he’s coached at different teams. So I have confidence he’ll continue to push to get it right,” Bradley said.

“Marc came to us with a real set way, great methodology, a great understanding of training loads, and his teams have always been really well organized.

“So what I see from Vancouver is all of the Marc Dos Santos’ traits. This team is very organized, good structure and very good understanding among the players. That part is clear from the first part you watch them.”

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The two teams share much in principles and system. The LAFC style is how Dos Santos ultimately wants this team to play. Solid possession, aggressive in transition both offensively and defensively, players making in-game reads that trigger pressures or an offensive break, and fluid, eye-pleasing football.

The differences are in the top-end talent — and the spending for it.

Where the Caps have Fredy Montero and Joaquin Ardaiz, LAFC have Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi. That’s one penalty kick goal compared to 14 goals and six assists.

Last year, the SoCal squad outspent the Caps by close to $4M in salary alone, a divide that is likely to grow even more this season.

Dos Santos knows who he’ll be facing on the pitch Wednesday, and no amount of inside knowledge from his time with L.A. will help.

“We know exactly what they’re going to be about, and we know exactly how we can hurt them. But now we need the execution to come,” he said.

“You can know the places where you can hurt them, and where they are weak. It’s one thing to know, the other is execution.

“We know their strengths. Some are very obvious — the pressure they put (on teams) is very, very high. Players like Carlos have 14 of the (21) goals they’ve scored, so it tells you right away, if those guys are in a hot night, you’re going to be in trouble.”

jadams@postmedia.com

twitter.com/TheRealJJAdams


NEXT GAME

Wednesday

Los Angeles Football Club vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

7 p.m., B.C. Place Stadium, TV: TSN 1, 3; Radio: TSN 1040 AM


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