Dos Santos Could Cap ‘Most Uncomfortable’ Season with a NASL Title

Marc Dos Santos San Francisco Deltas. Photo by SF Gate

champ-logo-no-yearMarc Dos Santos hasn’t missed a beat in his return to the North American Soccer League with the San Francisco Deltas. As he did in 2015 with the Ottawa Fury, Dos Santos exceeded all expectations to lead his team to second place in the Combined Season standings and earned a spot in the Championship final while also taking home Coach of the Year honors.

Having led the Swope Parke Rangers — another expansion team — to the United Soccer League final last year, Dos Santos has been on quite the run. Unfortunately, off-the-field concerns have prevented Dos Santos from fully enjoying this year’s achievements.

“I will tell you it’s been the most uncomfortable season of my career,” Dos Santos said.

The source of Dos Santos’ stress is the constant doubt surrounding the Deltas and the future of his players and staff. Only a few months in the season, Deltas chief executive Brian Helmick posted a letter online stating the team needed to double its attendance for the rest of the year or risk folding after one season. The letter was a troubling sign, and further reports only caused more concern. It was recently confirmed that the Deltas were not part of the unsuccessful sanctioning application the NASL presented to the U.S. Soccer Federation in September.

Without a savior investor soon, the Deltas are likely to be another one-and-done NASL team like Rayo OKC.

“It’s been incredibly difficult, much more difficult than people think,” he said. “We had to go through a lot of doubts, with people talking all the time about what the future will be. It’s not easy. At the same time, what we said in the locker room is the only thing we can control and that is to be the best team possible every single day. If we’re the best team possible every day, our futures are pretty much guaranteed. If it’s not in San Francisco, it will be in another place.”

Being able to push past a distraction like the one facing San Francisco takes a certain character in the locker room. Luckily the Deltas had Dos Santos, who built winning cultures as Ottawa and as Swope Park’s first coach.

“I love it,” Dos Santos, 40, said. “It’s a phase of my life that made me grow and stretch myself as a coach. It’s something that I think was important for me,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to eventually working at a club that maybe is more stable and has already done what they need to do in the first part of buildup.”

Dos Santos’ teams have a reputation as some of the best-organized outfits in lower division soccer. According to him, that discipline and commitment starts with recruitment.

“You don’t want egos in the locker room with players that only think of themselves and put the team second,” he said. “What we have in the locker room are guys that are only concerned about the well being of the team. I think every player in the locker room feels important. That’s the type of player that we brought into the roster. When you put players like that together, it creates an incredible spirit.”

Dos Santos and his counterpart this weekend, New York Cosmos Coach Giovanni Savarese, have cemented themselves as two of the best coaches in the eyes of those who follow lower-division soccer. Savarese’s accolades have garnered him some interest from Major League Soccer club, but Dos Santos has largely been left out of the conversation when MLS coaching gigs open up, though the Montreal native has been mentioned as a future coach of Canada’s national team.

As a guy who loves to dig and do the work, though, Dos Santos isn’t concerned with the approval of those who do the hiring.

“In a normal soccer country, Gio would’ve already had his chance in the first division,” Dos Santos said. “Here it’s not a normal soccer country. A successful college coach in American football or basketball does get his shot in the NFL or the NBA.

“I’m not here to get validation from them. I’m happy if I’m at good club. I’m happy if I’m in a good environment. I’m happy if my family is happy and if I’m doing the job with the right people around me. I don’t need to be validated between these first or second divisions. One thing that I’m absolutely sure of is that there are probably some coaches in the second division that are better than some coaches in the first division. That happens everywhere in the world.”

Sunday’s match at Kezar Stadium will be the second time in three years Dos Santos will look to dispatch Savarese and the Cosmos for the NASL title. Despite this, Dos Santos said that he’s not “out for revenge.” A win this weekend would simply give him and the entire organization a much needed moment of joy after a season full of doubt.

“The club has done a very good job to protect us and the players. That I think has to be praised,” he said. “It’s probably easier to be in a club where everybody knows what the future holds for them or has a 20-year history. That wasn’t the case here. If the San Francisco Deltas win the championship, it’s worthy of a Disney movie in my opinion.”