— Ottawa Fury FC (@OttawaFuryFC) September 15, 2015
In an intriguing move, Ottawa Fury FC has announced that manager Marc Dos Santos will be departing for the greener pastures of Major League Soccer this winter, joining Peter Vermes’s staff at Sporting Kansas City. What makes the move somewhat surprising is not so much the fact that Dos Santos is headed for MLS – with his Fury team punching well above its weight in the NASL, it seemed only a matter of time – but the fact Fury FC felt that announcing his departure on the brink of a crucial playoff stretch run made sense.
“I’m still focused on (our) locker room and what’s coming ahead,” stressed the 38 year-old Luso-Canadian during the team’s press conference on Tuesday morning. “I’m going to ask you for the next two months, don’t ask me where I’m going.”
As Fury FC embarked on its improbable twelve-game unbeaten streak earlier this season, it became clear that Dos Santos was unlikely to stay in the nation’s capital beyond the end of the 2015 season. What he’s built in Ottawa is a reasonably talented group with a strong sense of team identity; Fury FC players know what they are, what their functioning role is within the squad, and have been groomed to go to war for the player on either side of them.
Rest assured, Fury faithful: Dos Santos’s departure at the end of the year does not mean he’s going to mail it in over his final two months with the club. That’s not his nature. He will continue to be at his most professional, and Fury FC will continue to have the best gameplans in the NASL.
However, the announcement that Dos Santos is leaving might place certain players in awkward spots. The likes of Sini Ubiparipovic, Tom Heinemann, and Ryan Richter have all played their best football in some time under Dos Santos, who it must be said has overachieved with the on-paper squad he has commanded. Not to mention Aly Hassan and Ugur Albayrak, fall season transfers that look unlikely to break into any Fury first team, managed by Dos Santos or not.
How will those five, plus the surprisingly monstrous centre back pairing of Rafael Alves and Colin Falvey, react to the news that their skipper is skipping town in two months? You expect professionalism out of players, but how will the squad’s mentality change with the news that its well-respected gaffer will leave them in a mere two months? Will the club, buoyed by captain Richie Ryan, take on a ‘win it for Marc’ mentality, or will the squad’s cohesion dissipate amidst careerist players already looking elsewhere for a place to play in 2016?
Time will tell in very short order. What is important to recognize is that Dos Santos’s promotion – that’s what it is, he’s undeniably going from a second flight to a continental premier league – is beyond merited. He took a club with no history, nor players, to the brink of a playoff spot in roughly 17 months. He’s managed to mould Ottawa into a legitimate top-three team, right up there with the moneyed Cosmos and upper-middle-class Minnesota Uniteds of the NASL, on a lower middle class budget.
The club, to the best of anybody’s knowledge, has never paid a cent in transfer fees. Dos Santos built a club from scratch, and has guided it to the brink of postseason contention in less than two years. That’s nothing short of a minor miracle. With Dos Santos to join Sporting Kansas City as an assistant to Peter Vermes, he is one step closer to his stated dream of managing the Canadian national team. Though likely still a head coaching position or two away from serious consideration for the Les Rouges job, the Luso-Canadian Dos Santos appears to be on the right track. I have the utmost respect for him, as does the entirety of Ottawa’s sports media, and personally wish him the best of luck going forward.
Ottawa Fury FC now has a very real problem. Marc Dos Santos is the club’s identity; with local sports media, with the squad he himself has built, MDS is the face of Fury FC. Not Julian De Guzman. Not Richie Ryan. MDS. Now, after less than two seasons, he is gone. Their tactician, their motivator, their charming personality in the media.
How do you maintain the same club culture built from the ground up by somebody once they are gone? That is a question that Pugh and the rest of Fury FC’s remaining staff – which includes former Liverpool ‘keeper Bruce Grobbelaar and Vancouver Whitecaps legend Martin Nash – will have to face now, as opposed to in mid-November at the end of the NASL campaign.
The club is at a crossroads. The entire squad was brought in under Dos Santos, and has exceeded expectations by a country mile.
Losing Marc Dos Santos a big blow. To lead the NASL Fall Season in year two a major accomplishment with a budget in the bottom third of NASL
— AJ Jakubec (@AJonSports) September 15, 2015
The aforementioned Nash has already been confirmed as a ‘candidate’ in the club’s search for a new skipper. Names from all over North American footy have been kicked around, but the fact is, nobody will be able to replicate the exact atmosphere around Ottawa Fury FC’s squad at present.
Marc Dos Santos has defied the odds – set by financial obstacles, a non-existent transfer budget, brutal red-eye ‘NASL special’ road trips, etc. – and made Fury FC a winner on a lower middle class budget by league standards. He was always a cut above the rest of the managers on the second division circuit, and departs Ottawa as the sole reason that a squad of free transfers climbed to the top of the NASL table, the sole reason the club is regularly drawing 6,000-plus, and the sole reason to-date that Fury FC is relevant in the Ottawa sports market.
The future is uncertain at Fury FC. Nobody will replicate what MDS has accomplished in the nation’s capital, what he has accomplished with an unspectacular group of players. The best that Pugh and the rest of the club’s management can hope for is finding a replacement who won’t completely fail to recapture some of the professional overachieving created under Dos Santos.