It is exactly the last thing Phillip Dos Santos would have wanted to see from his Valour FC troops over the last week – an over-confidence or bloated sense of satisfaction.
And so, while his team is unbeaten through four Canadian Premier League matches so far this season with a win and three consecutive draws, Valour’s GM and head coach was hard on his squad from the very moment last week’s nil-nil effort against HFX Wanderers ended, calling it the worst of the first four performances.
And that’s not just a manager being a hard ass, it’s the boss ensuring his team doesn’t settle with results – even given its long list of injuries — when he is convinced it can give more.
“We need to take this team to its maximum potential and we’re not there yet,” Dos Santos told valourfootball.club earlier this week. “We need to keep pushing. Even when the team is doing a lot of good things, we feel there’s always another gear for us. Again, this club hasn’t made the playoffs. This club hasn’t won a title. So, you can’t just have ambition without putting in the work.
“If we want to achieve something special for this club, we need to put the work in and be demanding with ourselves and be ambitious with everything we do.”
Valour heads into enemy territory on Saturday for a matinee against CPL champion Forge FC. Dos Santos & Co. are saying all the right things about being respectful of the defending champs but, again, this early in the 2023 season it’s as much about this club settling into its own game as it is on game planning for an opponent.
“Even though we’re finding some good things in our game, we know there’s a lot more room for improvement,” said midfielder Dante Campbell, who was sensational in the draw against Wanderers. “That, in itself, is exciting. We know we have a lot of improving to do and we know we’re capable of it. At the same time, we know we know we’re playing well. We have a high standard in this group. We’re always going to want more and push for more because we know what we’re capable of.
“Our start and our defensive game is a big confidence for the boys. For us to find that stability in the back early in the season with multiple changes, multiple guys out… there’s a lot of positives in that. We have to focus on those and build from it.”
Those words would be golden for Dos Santos, who has seen his squad be in playoff positions in years past, only to tumble out of the spot and finish out of the final playoff spot in each of the last two seasons.
And so, this need to push, to ask for more, isn’t an occasional thing, it’s an everyday thing.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “It’s the identity of an organization, a culture that lives within. In the past couple of years there’s been progress. It’s about making sure the new guys that come in embrace that and don’t get comfortable. Pushing ourselves to be the best we can be just needs to be part of our culture.
“This is the biggest challenge for young players – not settling for what they have now and really pushing themselves to the unknown, the what if? It’s hard to understand what you don’t see. As you get older you look at the what ifs? What if I had done this and that. It’s easier for each to be able to tell them in 10-15 years you don’t want to be saying ‘Man, I regret not being more committed or working harder or having a consistent mindset.’