There was an unsettled air around Ottawa Fury FC’s press conference on Tuesday morning, as the club announced that manager Marc Dos Santos will head to the brighter lights of Major League Soccer at the end of the season. Nobody, from captain Richie Ryan to Dos Santos himself, seemed to outwardly agree with the decision to announce the boss’s imminent departure in the midst of a critical playoff drive.
Despite the announcement, neither MDS nor club president John Pugh wanted to answer questions about his future from journalists. Bizarre.
The fact of the matter is, Marc Dos Santos is the only reason Ottawa Fury FC is relevant in the Ottawa sports market. What I just said is not hyperbole; without Dos Santos’s gross overachievement with a middling squad of MLS rejects and international veterans, there is no way Ottawa would be drawing the 5- to 6000 it currently is. Without the Luso-Canadian boss’s miraculous creation of a deep sense of family and loyalty around his 1.5 year-old club, there is zero chance Fury FC would sit top of the NASL fall table. Zero.
The club’s competitive future is now undoubtedly in question. As tweeted by team broadcaster AJ Jakubec, the 38 year-old’s biggest feat was creating a first-place mentality around a squad whose wage budget sat well within the bottom third of the NASL.
Looking in the rearview mirror, it’s incredible what Dos Santos did for the club, not only on the pitch, but off it as well. He instilled a sense of pride in the team, and dealt with the Ottawa sports media in a consistently friendly and professional way. With his team’s twelve-game undefeated streak – something achieved through sharp defensive discipline and the warrior-like mentality he instilled in his team – he managed to capture the hearts of many an Ottawa footy fan. In hi-tech terms, MDS turned Fury FC from a two-bit startup into, currently, the booming Nortel of the late-90’s. The question now is: with Dos Santos departed, does every block of the club culture he built leave with him?
He has fine-tuned the current Ottawa squad, getting enigmatic and inconsistent players like Tom Heinemann and Sinisa Ubiparipovic to buy into his tactical gameplans and find their form. With many Fury players up for new contracts at the end of 2015, will Dos Santos’s departure affect their decisions? My guess is absolutely.
Good for the Luso-Canadian guy. He’s an affable, intelligent manager who probably should be a Major League Soccer head coach at this very moment. The fact he’s leaving a managerial post in the NASL for an assistant’s job in MLS demonstrates how small (read: humble) the man’s professional ego is. MDS treated the Ottawa sports media respectfully, and served as the legitimizing face of the team while it played ugly soccer at an aesthetic disaster of an aluminum bleacher stadium in its first season.
Which brings me to what makes Tuesday’s announcement so bizarre. MDS is the beating heart of Ottawa Fury FC, the face and voice of the team in local media, and the tactician behind the team’s surprise success in year two. So why, in the midst of a playoff stretch run in which the club is enjoying unparalleled media coverage and popularity, did the club announce his departure? Why not just wait until the end of the campaign and let him leave quietly?
If the club was worried about players’ contract negotiations being delayed on the basis of MDS’s uncertain future with the club, those players surely won’t sign now with his decision to move on. If anything, Tuesday’s move will serve as a distraction, with media bound to badger both Dos Santos and specific Fury players through to the end of the critical upcoming stretch run.
I don’t like this move by the organization. Clearly, it wasn’t something Dos Santos was comfortable with. To make the announcement that he wouldn’t be back, with two months left in the NASL season and his club currently punching above its weight in a playoff spot, seems like bad timing.
Most of of the Twittersphere seems to feel this way too, with one angry fan even claiming that, if they were to make such an announcement at this point in the campaign, they would make sure it was a resignation.
No replacement that president John Pugh and the Fury front office find will be able to duplicate the environment of professional overachievement that MDS has created in Canada’s capital with a second-year club. The best they can hope for is to find somebody who will instill a decent amount of confidence in the group of players signed and moulded by MDS – enough, at least, to convince the majority to come back to Ottawa in 2016.
Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fury.