Valour FC's recent slide cost head coach GM and Rob Gale his job Thursday with former Vancouver Whitecaps assistant Phillip Dos Santos taking over
The Winnipeg club stands fifth in the eight-team Canadian Premier League with a 7-9-2 record, just three points out of the fourth and final playoff position with 10 matches remaining.
But the club is winless in its last four league games (0-3-1) and has won just one of its last 11 outings (1-8-2) after a 6-1-0 start that saw CPL teams play in a bubble out of Winnipeg before returning to home markets. It was also knocked out of the Canadian Championship in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Forge FC on Sept. 15.
"We just felt that we need to take it to the next level and we believe that Phil can do that and help get us going to that level , to get into that playoff spot and then compete for the championship this year," Valour president and CEO Wade Miller said in an interview.
The 43-year-old Dos Santos and his older brother, head coach Marc Dos Santos, were fired by the Whitecaps on Aug. 27. The axing came after the Whitecaps, then 5-7-8, were upset 4-3 by Pacific FC in the Canadian Championship preliminary round.
Phillip Dos Santos says the deal to take over Valour was done quickly.
"I was sitting back home in Vancouver with plans to just see how things would go in the off-season and take some time to be with my family," he said. "We received the phone call with tis opportunity some time last week."
Noting there are only 11 professional soccer club coaching jobs in Canada, he said it felt right "just being home, just being in the Canadian market."
But he called it a "bittersweet moment," knowing the opportunity was coming at the expense of another coach.
Dos Santos, who met with the Valour players Thursday, has little time to prepare. The Winnipeg team visits York United FC on Sunday in an important match.
York (6-5-8) sits fourth, three points ahead of Valour which has a game in hand.
"There's still a big belief that the playoffs are something tangible. It's something that we want," said Dos Santos. "It starts on Sunday."
"It's a position where everything is on us to make it," he added.
Dos Santos says he wants a team with energy and discipline, one that "understands the moment they're in."
And he showed he can connect with young players, referencing "The Twilight Saga," a vampire-themed romance fantasy film and book series.
"When you look at someone and you see the veins pumping," he said, pointing to his neck. "And the energy of wanting something and really feeling the person. That's I want to see in the players, playing with energy, with the type of behaviour that is aggressive, hard to beat, to play against. That every day, you know that if you play Valour, you're up for a game, for a fight. That's what I want us to be about."
Said Miller: "You don't have to look much further to see the passion he's going to bring to this organization and the expectations and accountability that he's going to hold our players to every day."
Born in Montreal and raised in Portugal, Dos Santos played professional soccer in Portugal and Mozambique.
Miller said assistant coach and assistant GM Damian Rocke and goalkeeping coach Patrick Di Stefani will remain in their roles.
The Winnipeg side finished sixth in the seven-team CPL in its inaugural 2019 season with an 8-16-4 record. It was sixth at 2-3-2 in the first stage of the 2020 Island Games, failing to advance to the next stage.
Gale was Valour's first head coach and GM. He previously coached the Canadian under-17, under-18 and under-20 national teams and served as technical director for the Manitoba Soccer Association.
Born in Zambia to English parents, Gale moved to Winnipeg from England in 2001. He comes from a coaching family, with five members of his family having UEFA coaching licences.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press