In less than a month, on April 12th, the Ottawa Fury will kick off their inaugural season in the NASL. With the help of Graeme Ivory, Ottawa’s Media and Communications Director, 10Soccer is doing a series of articles about what it takes to start up an NASL club.
In the first article of the series, Fury President John Pugh talked about how the NASL team went from idea to reality. Still to come is a conversation with the front office staff about all the things besides the soccer game it takes to put on a soccer game.
Of course, the most important part of fielding a top-level soccer club is having a top-level soccer team. That responsibility has been given to Fury FC head coach Marc Dos Santos. We talked with Coach Dos Santos about how he’s building the Fury.
10Soccer: Starting up a new team, especially at a level as high as NASL, has got to be a big challenge. What was attractive to you about the Fury job?
Coach Dos Santos: What was attractive was how tough it is. It was so difficult to start something from new, from zero. It’s something that is always interesting for any coach that wants to start something from scratch. So, it wasn’t an easy project. There are no players in yet. There’s no staff in yet, and you have to start from scratch. Everything related to that and how difficult it seems to organize – that was a challenge. You need to be person of challenges if you want to pick something like an expansion team, that’s for sure.
10Soccer: What is the personality you want this team to have?
Coach Dos Santos: You have two choices. When the staff’s in place, we decide, “Do we go after any kind of player; and after we’ll see, with the players we have, the way we want to play?” I think that gives too much strength to the player and not enough strength to the club. What I mean by that is if tomorrow, six, seven players are released and another coach comes in, well, there’s another change in philosophy, another change of model. You feel that some clubs have been in the league for ten years, and they’re always talking about rebuilding. That’s because, I think, the model is not the most important thing in those cases.
What we wanted to do, first of all, is to make sure we had a model of play in place. So, before we go after any kind of player… How do we want to play? What do we want this team to be about? We want to be a possession oriented team. We want to be a team that likes to have the ball, that likes to have speed in the possession; and for that, you need players that are good in possession. You need players that are technically gifted.
And afterwards, we wanted to go after players that were extremely aggressive in the moment that we lose possession. Sometimes you have very good attackers that are excellent going forward; but after, when they lose the ball, they’re very passive. They don’t like to work. And one of the characteristics that we have is, yes, we’re a team in possession; but what we also want to be about is a team that is extremely aggressive when we lose possession.
We wrote our model of play and how we want to play, then we went and asked the players to maximize our model. And I think that that gives strength to the club. Because tomorrow, if one of our players leaves, we go after another player that can do the role he was doing. Then we always keep the model as the center of everything regarding training, playing, acquisition of players, acquisition of staff.
10Soccer: The Fury organization has a strong history of youth academies and player development. Are you going to try to incorporate the philosophy you’re using to build the NASL team in the rest of the organization?
Coach Dos Santos: Yes. Absolutely. If you look at our technical director [Phillip Dos Santos], he’s somebody that I trust, somebody that is really involved in the Canadian program. Phil has been with the U17 national team, U20, Francophone Team Games, the Olympic Team Games. He knows the best players, and he’s always been very committed at the youth level. The technical director’s responsibility is to put the model of the first team in all the academy.
So, of course, we want the academy to feed the first team, but it’s such a baby today – our academy. Our academy today is not ready to give players to the first team, because there’s still a big gap between the first team and the academy. Our objective is to shorten that gap every day, so one of the things we’ve done is we invited three players from the U20 team to our training camp. Today they’re not good enough. But they’ll still spend all year with us, because the message we want to throw out there is we will have the academy feed the first team.
10Soccer: It has to help them by playing with the people at the level they have to get to. It gives them a target to shoot for.
Coach Dos Santos: Yes. What we expect is – if today, let’s say the NASL player is 10 – a realistic assessment regarding our academy would be a 3. That’s the gap. But we expect that at the end of the year, that 3 becomes a 5-6.
And who knows that afterwards, with our name being out there, with the team playing NASL, with better players coming into our academy? The gap’s going to be shortened every time.
But you have to be realistic. If we feel that our academy today, compared with the NASL, is a 2-3, well, it doesn’t matter that it’s low. At least we know the reality, and at least we know what type of work we have to do. We have a kid training with the first team. From day one of training camp to day 15 of training camp, the kid has grown. Maybe he came in as a 2, but he’s already a 3 1/2 after two weeks. So, we just imagine in one year – one year of training every day and being with that environment. And for that, you know, you have to know your standards. You can’t be delusional. You have to know where you’re at today to be somewhere tomorrow.
10Soccer: When you started, you had no players. With your experience, you probably know thousands or tens of thousands of players. How do you even start? Did you contact players that you thought, “Hey, you’d be a good fit for my team”?
Coach Dos Santos: It’s a good question. Some people can look from the outside, and sometimes because you’re on the outside it’s all about passion. If you’re a fan – let’s say you’re a Seattle Sounders fan, and you just go, “How come they don’t go get this player? How come they don’t go get that player?”
It’s not like that. It doesn’t work like that. There are a lot of players we want – me, Martin [Assistant Coach Martin Nash] and Phil – that we can’t get. So, the first thing, is be aware of your budget; because we have a salary cap inside the club – not in the league, but my President makes sure he reminds me every day of my salary cap. So, that’s the first thing you need to know when we go after players.
How you go about it is you design your model. You know how you want to play. And we give the price tag per position – me and my staff. We say, “Okay. A starter right back would be around this price. The second right back would be around this one.” The starter center back, the starter center midfield, the starter defensive mid, the backup. And we put a price tag that fits our budget. And after, what you have to do is you have to always try to stay around those numbers. So, if you price-tag a guy at 4,000, if you go to 45, 47, you could live with that. But you can’t price-tag a guy 4,000 and get another guy that is 10,000. Then you’re left with 18 players and not a 22-man squad because you overspent your budget.
So, the challenge for us here was trying to go get the best player possible with the amounts we have. And that was a challenge. And today, we’re quite happy – we feel that we have very good players for the budget we have. We feel that the players have quality. Sometimes we’re surprised here in the office, “We got this guy at this price. I can’t believe it.”
That’s the biggest challenge. You’re not only going after guys. You’re going after guys, but you have a budget. I see it every week. Martin and I in the office, we have an Excel sheet and our calculator on, and we look like Accounting . But that’s how it works.
10Soccer: You have a lot of international experience yourself. In your roster, you already have several international players: Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South America, Africa and even Asia. Do you deliberately want to have an international presence on the team? And if so, what does that bring to the team?
Coach Dos Santos: First, it brings quality. We’re looking at, for example, Oliver [forward Oliver Minatel]. Oliver is a 21-year-old player that came from Brazil, so he’s an international; but we feel there’s no way we could find a North American at 21 years old with the quality of Oliver. So, when you go after a foreigner, we make sure he has to be better than what we could find in Canada or the U.S. If he’s not, what’s the point?
And afterwards, we feel that the foreigners we brought, one, they all speak English. So, what’s been fantastic is that they’re all fitting very fast in the mold of the team. I remember being in Montreal one year where we had five French players, and sometimes at was difficult because you have the French players on one side, the Americans on the other – because they don’t speak the same language. So, even when we went after a foreigner, we made sure, “Okay. Does he speak the language?“
The only guy that doesn’t speak English is Maykon [defender/midfielder Maykon Araújo], but Maykon brings Europa League experience. He played in 1st Division in Europe, so you take that sacrifice in one guy because of the quality he’s going to bring. And he’s going to learn. He’s going to have fun with the guys.
We’re concerned about them integrating with the full group. You’re an expansion team, so you have to make it become a team. So, I think that everybody can bring something different to the table, and we feel it in training already.
10Soccer: You also have a strong Canadian background. Both your assistant coaches have strong Canadian backgrounds.
Coach Dos Santos: Yes, I’m born in Canada. My soccer is all from Portugal, because I grew up in Portugal. I left Canada when I was ten, and I only came back to Montreal when I was 23. I would say all my soccer background and what I understand about soccer and my study on soccer is all from Portugal. But I’m Canadian. I’m born in Canada, and I’m proud of that. But we’re big critics about Canadian soccer, because we want to help. And when I look at our Canadian players, they all have a background in the national team.
Andrés Fresenga played the qualifiers for the Olympics for Canada. [Drew] Beckie played qualifiers. Phil Davies played for U17-U20 and U23. Carl [Haworth] was with the U23 and the U20. So, every Canadian that we have at least once in his life wore the Canadian jersey. So, I think that we weren’t a club that said, “Let’s find Canadians,” just because of the political side. We were always clear. We are going to sign good Canadian players, and not any Canadian.
10Soccer: So, you’re looking at all your players that way. You’re just saying, “We want the best player we can afford that fits into our program.”
Coach Dos Santos: That fits into our model – exactly that. If our budget allows, if the player fits – technically, practically, mentally – our model, he has a very good chance of being with us.
10Soccer: How will the team captain be picked? Will you and your coaches do that, or will the team pick him?
Coach Dos Santos: Another good question. You want an honest answer?
Coach Dos Santos: I don’t have a clue how the captain’s going to be picked. Give me ideas.
10Soccer: I always thought it made sense to let the team pick it.
Coach Dos Santos: I agree with you. The thing – what I’m thinking about [is] the fact we’re choosing a captain in an expansion year. You know, in Montreal, when I became coach it was clear: the core was there because of the history of the club. We have no history. So, we don’t know. We have ideas, and one thing we’re guaranteed of is we are going to decide it in our camp in Florida. We want to make a smart and not emotional decision.
10Soccer: My related question is what are the most important traits for a captain to have? It seems like a lot of times the best player is picked, but is that necessarily what’s required?
Coach Dos Santos: First one: character. And I was speaking with some players about that today. Character is: can I count on you as a player when times are difficult? This is an expansion team – yeah – but every team goes through a tough moment, expansion or not. It’s not comfortable, because you’re figuring out a lot things during the season. You’re growing as a team during the season. So, character. You need to find out the player that, when it’s tough, you know that he’s going to keep the team the most positive.
And the other trait we’re looking at the player for is integrity, and that means when we’re not there – the staff – and the captain is with the players, does he keep the same message the staff has? That’s another trait that is extremely important to find.
And the third and very important one: is he going to play? Because you can find some things like that in a player that is going to be 80% of the time in the stands. You need also to find the guy that, if everything goes well, most of the time he’s going to be on the field. Sometimes we speak about traits of a captain, and we forget that quality is important as a player.
But for sure we’re going to have the captain and the vice captain. That’s guaranteed – one and two.
10Soccer: What are your goals for the team this season?
Coach Dos Santos: We want to be in the semifinal of the Amway Cup. We want to be there. That’s one goal. Second goal: we want to be in the top four. We want to be in the playoffs. That’s two goals that we’re not shy of talking about, even being an expansion team. I don’t want to tell you “we want to be competitive”. It’s not good enough. I want to tell you that our goals as a staff, as a team, are if we finish the season and we say, “We reached the semifinals of the Amway Cup. We reached the semifinals of the NASL playoffs,” we feel we’ve accomplished something big.
But one of the things we want to accomplish is to earn respect. We want, at the end of 2014, every team in the NASL to say, “Ottawa is a tough team to play against. Ottawa is a team that has a strong mentality. We like to play against Ottawa.” We want to earn the respect of the league, and for that I told players, we have to be a little bit cocky – in a good way. We have to believe in us.
10Soccer: I know it’s still kind of early, but are you seeing the team embracing that?
Coach Dos Santos: Absolutely, yes, because of the characters we’ve brought. We brought winners. The team is expansion – right? The logo is expansion. I’m not expansion. Martin is not expansion. Siniša [Ubiparipovic] isn’t. Nicki Paterson isn’t. Richie Ryan isn’t. Omar [Juran] won the league with two teams. So, the players – I have to say we’re not expansion. The only thing that is – is the logo. And we have to believe in that – everybody.
10Soccer: The weather in Ottawa is going to be significantly cooler than a lot of the other NASL cities. Is the weather going to be an advantage, a disadvantage, or not a big deal?
Coach Dos Santos: We are going to be training outside, you know, on our training field, and where we are going to play, and it has to be an advantage. It has to. I remember when we went to the Champions League with the Montreal Impact, the games were in November, and it was very cold in Montreal. And when Atlanta and Olympia came, they felt it. Our players would only play with the shirt. They would play with gloves. They would play with long sleeves. We felt it was uncomfortable for them. The one that was very funny was the team from Trinidad and Tobago. I thought they were going to die on the field because it was, like, zero degrees. They really suffered. So, it could be an advantage. But I don’t think that Minnesota is going to feel it that much.
And after May, it’s already good here. I know people get the impression Ottawa is in Ukraine, but it’s not. It’s not that bad. But if Ft. Lauderdale or Atlanta would have come to play here on April 12, it would be an advantage for us. Actually, I hope it snows when they come play us here.
Marc Dos Santos brings worldwide experience, unbridled passion, and a history of success to his new role with Ottawa. Under his leadership, look for the Fury to become a factor in the league very quickly. It should be one of the most interesting stories of the NASL season.
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