Valour 2022 Recap: Part Three

Phillip Dos Santos has settled into a chair in the Valour FC headquarters and is staring at an updated depth chart in front of him on a giant monitor.

And to left is a massive white board taking up roughly half of one wall of the GM and head coach’s office which features 30-plus names of prospective players the club has on its radar.

The Canadian Premier League’s 2022 season ended late last month with Forge FC’s win over Atlético Ottawa, but Dos Santos and his staff have had their eyes forward to 2023 since the club’s elimination from the playoff picture last month.

“It’s an evolving process. It never stops,” began Dos Santos recently in an extensive chat with “We’ve looked at the teams consistently in the playoffs and, of course, you need to look at what the trends are in the league.

“There’s a consistency to their lineups, but it can’t be us being stubborn and thinking ‘OK, let’s keep going with these guys because of the consistency.’ Take Atlético Ottawa as an example – they made a dramatic change to their roster when you look at the 13-14 players they’ve used the most. We’re talking about 80 percent of a change and they ended up having one of the best seasons in the existence of the CPL.

“You have to change for the right motives. I think continuity is good in the right place and with the right pieces. You need a foundation that you’re sure is a successful one. I look at Cavalry, at Forge, they have had that.”

Phillip Dos Santos (Head Coach)- 1539

Valour FC finished fifth – and just out of the playoffs – for a second straight year, largely due to a late-season nosedive that saw them grab just one draw against four losses in the final five matches.

And where the club was also close at the end of 2021 – missing the playoffs by one point – Dos Santos will now be more aggressive in the offseason than he was a year ago after parachuting in as the coach during the campaign.

“We tried to do stay consistent at the end of 2021,” Dos Santos said. “I was new and gave the benefit of the doubt to a lot of players and still wanted to get to know them a bit better after they had given me very good indicators at the end of 2021.

“Right now, we just feel that we need to be bold, and we can’t be afraid. Being in that fifth spot and knowing that run we were having until the last five games could have blurred many decisions. But if you think about it, there were spells of inconsistency throughout the season, either collectively or in in the individual performances.

“We have to look at everything and we need to do it in a pragmatic way. It can’t be in an emotional way.”

Valour 2022 Recap

Part 1:
The Numbers
Part 2: Contract Status Update

Dos Santos hopes to take a different approach to offseason recruitment than in years past, looking within the league for talent, as well as casting a net in the northern hemisphere more than South America and not being dependent on loan agreements to build a roster.

A look at each of those components in detail:

CPL Free Agency

The club has targeted current CPL players it hopes to bring to Winnipeg. Dos Santos said some contracts around the league have already expired, others could be free as month’s end.

“Look at every team… not many players are able to come in and adapt right away and start games right away, no matter what quality they have,” said Dos Santos. “I think it’s important to have a good blend of league players and players that are adapted to the style of the game, to the travel, that can come in and fit the dynamic of the club right away. They already know Winnipeg and what it looks like and have played here before and been around the league. When you’re talking to that type of player you don’t have to sell the city to them.

“There’s an easier adaptation to a player who has played in the CPL before and that has value. Of course, it has to be the right player who, one, meets a positional need and, two, is someone who has the profile that we think fits our team and our style of play.”

Help From Abroad

Valour, just like other CPL teams, has often relied on talent from outside the country, like all-time leading scorer Moses Dyer of New Zealand. Last year the club brought in three players from South America in midfielders Kevin Rendon and Daniel Ascanio and forward Walter Ponce. But ongoing visa issues also meant they did not arrive until after the preseason and a long training camp.

Kevin Rendon (10)- 10548

“We’re attentive to the local market, players who have been in the CPL and went away and are looking to come back or players who have been in North American leagues, like the USL,” said Dos Santos.

“There are players that are in comparable leagues to the CPL that we feel will have easy adaptation – some of the players in leagues in the Nordic countries seem to adapt easier than other international players. It’s because of the type of game played, the environment, the weather, the language… there are so many components.

“And a very big component is the visa process. For us it’s very important that from Day 1 of preseason we have everyone on the ground here and ready to go. There’s no chance we we’re going to do that again. There’s no way we’re going to be here next April and May and not have a guy available to help the team right away.”

The Loan Agreement Approach

Valour has hit on this in the past, especially in its agreements with CF Montreal of the MLS, landing stars like goalkeepers James Pantemis and Jonathan Sirois, and CPL U-21 Canadian Player of the Year Sean Rea.

There’s a benefit financially if the parent club covers all or a portion of the salary. The trade-off? Loan agreements often don’t get settled until well into the offseason, and Valour has no say in a potential recall.

“Loans have to be like a Christmas present that you’re not expecting,” said Dos Santos. “You need to build a team while not counting on them. Now, if in the process and opportunity kicks in – and we’re always attentive and looking – then you must look at it. The international loans are normally paid loans – they’re easy because they’re worked on now and we’re in the market at a positional need and there could be someone on the market.

“An MLS loan the club wants to use us as a means to get a player minutes and get some rhythm and there’s no financial attachment to it then, yeah, you might need to be patient. But, again, it needs to be an unexpected present and not counting on them.”

The Last Word

Valour has yet to qualify for the CPL playoffs in its four years of existence. A team in playoff contention could help move the needle in the local market as winning consistently is always the best sales pitch to attracting fans.

“We need to nail recruitment,” said Dos Santos. “The more I’m in this business the more I understand we’re not magicians as coaches. We need to make sure that every piece that comes in fits this puzzle. That makes recruitment important.

“We’re keeping a good core. We have a spine, and we feel we can work around it, but we can’t be afraid to be bold. Strategically I want to bring in league guys that have experience and who have won and have been in winning environments. For me that’s very important and that’s something we’re already on the go with. It’s about the right pieces, not just about adding pieces and new guys that have to come in and adapt to a new environment in a new league. We want guys that are adapted and so we’re very active in that market and that front.

“Look, we love these guys and we’ve built a relationship with them, but at the end of the day it’s a results-oriented business and we need to make sure we’re making decisions that are best for the club and sometimes we have to let go of all the emotions.

“We trust that everything is going to come together in a way that the team is going to be extremely competitive next year.”