The ball hadn’t even been tapped in yet as the bench eagerly sprinted towards the corner flag. Marc Dos Santos, former head coach of San Francisco Deltas, led the siege as Devon Sandoval confirmed Deltas were 2017 Soccer Bowl Champions when he scored the team’s second goal in the dying seconds of a 2-0 win against New York Cosmos. Assistant coach, brother, and current Indy Eleven assistant coach Phillip Dos Santos trailed behind him.
Groups of players, mixed with coaching staff, celebrated together when they reached the corner. Phillip hugged Marc, labeling the moment as something you only live once and want to live again, as the tandem celebrated their first championship together.
Dos Santos now resides in Indianapolis, winding through the roundabouts that take him to Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana, where the “Boys in Blue” train. Followed by the maze of one way streets that occupy downtown Indianapolis on his way to Lucas Oil Stadium on game days.
The native of Montreal, Quebec looks to emulate the success he had at San Francisco Deltas alongside his brother with head coach Martin Rennie at Indy Eleven. Dos Santos’ path to becoming a successful coach at the highest level is the result of an unsuccessful attempt to become a player at the highest level, as he now strives to become a head coach of his own side.
Coaching the beautiful game has steeped in the Dos Santos bloodline for decades. Growing up, Dos Santos spent time with his father and the squad he coached in the Excellence League, a league in Canada similar to the NASL in the United States.
“I remember being a kid and my dad would take me at five, six, seven- years-old, take me to training, and take me to the locker rooms,” Dos Santos said smiling at his childhood memories. “I started being around that environment very, very young and lived in that.”
Dos Santos was born in Canada, but to Portuguese parents. His father moved to Montreal to grow a business. He brought his love of Portuguese football and FC Porto with him. A love that would imprint on his sons.
“My dad had this old black radio and he would listen to the Portuguese matches on Sunday afternoons, at the times when games were only played on Sunday afternoons,” the mild mannered Dos Santos said. “We were having lunch and he’d have his radio there listening to his favorite team, FC Porto.”
Before any of the Dos Santos brothers coached the game their father taught them, they played it. For Dos Santos, his playing career didn’t begin until the family returned to Portugal.
At 14-years-old, a young Dos Santos decided that number one, he wanted to become a professional player, and two, when he finished playing he was going to coach. His dedication to the game and his passion became so evident that teachers in grade school were confiscating papers listing his best XI and the tactics behind his decisions.
Dos Santos fulfilled his dream of becoming a professional footballer, but soon realized the longevity of his career may be in jeopardy due to his size as a goalkeeper.
“My height became an issue,” the 5-foot-10-inch former goalkeeper said. “You’re trying to make your way in and it shifted so much as keepers started to be big and take up so much space.”
He found his escape in Mozambique, where he played in the first division of the African Cup for five years. When he returned to Portugal, Dos Santos found himself playing for a third division side while he lived paycheck to paycheck.
A career as a top flight footballer appeared to be out of the question. Coaching seemed to loom in the mind of Dos Santos slightly more every day as his career dwindled. When presented with an opportunity to get into coaching, Dos Santos seized it.
“As a player you have that gap, maybe 20-35, and that’s going to be it,” Dos Santos said. “As a coach I think I could coach at the highest level for many, many years.”
It took Dos Santos two months to be offered a full time coaching position. He then began the difficult transition from life as a footballer to that of a football coach.
In order to make ends meet, Dos Santos doubled as a player in amateur leagues in Canada, where he received game money, in addition to his coaching salary. He often questioned whether moving to a career as a coach was the right decision after his moonlight shifts on the pitch, but stuck with his decision.
“You always have that urge and you say, ‘Oh man, I could still do it,’” Dos Santos calmly said about sacrificing his playing career. “I just felt it was time to shift and I think that when you find the passion that renews an older passion or takes over, I think it makes it easier.”
Dos Santos’ success speaks for itself since his transition.
The 40-year-old started at the grassroots level, rose to club, continued on as a coach of the Canada U20 men’s side, took a position as the technical director of Ottawa Fury FC, and made his way on to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers coaching staff as an assistant before finding his way back to his brother Marc in 2017 with San Francisco Deltas. Now he coaches under Rennie with Indy Eleven.
He credits much of his success and stability to his wife and family.
“When you’re in this business you need to have someone that supports you and understands the job 100 percent,” Dos Santos softly said. “It is an emotional rollercoaster and you can get too high when you’re winning and too low when you’re losing.”
Dos Santos brings this philosophy into his coaching. According to the Portuguese-Canadian, understanding the human being is a crucial aspect of what makes a quality coach. He claims it’s not only x’s and o’s that make a coach successful, but additionally the ability to calm a player’s insecurities and doubts through honesty and transparency to help achieve a positive mindset.
“I really feel at the end of the day, they’re human beings and that no matter what level you’re at, you have the same insecurities, doubts, and questions,” Dos Santos said.
He defines leadership as the balance of tactics and managing men.
“When you get that right and you also understand where you want to be as a team and what you want to bring to your players as a team, the soccer component of it, you’re going to do well as a coach.”
Leadership is one of three elements of a successful coach and coaching tandem as stated by Dos Santos. The other two include training methodology and the tactical soccer component of coaching. At least two of the three between assistant coach and head coach are needed for success.
When coaching with his brother Marc, Dos Santos assures that the two shared all three components.
“We had the same background, the same school, and the same education as coaches,” Dos Santos said of his brother. “It looked like I had been coaching with him for, I don’t know, 20 years maybe?”
Today, the 2017 NASL Soccer Bowl Champion San Francisco Deltas has dismantled. Marc Dos Santos accepted an offer as an assistant coach with Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC, with Phillip Dos Santos understanding he would be unable to follow his brother to the City of Angels after their championship season.
“We knew that cognac was cognac and business was business,” Dos Santos said.
Now, Dos Santos attempts to kindle the same relationship he had with his brother with new boss Martin Rennie, who he feels holds the same core values.
“We’ve worked well and I think we work well because we respect each other first and foremost,” Dos Santos said. “We see value and qualities in each other and when it’s like that it just makes it easier.”
Nearly one full year in together and the two have posted one of the best seasons in Indy Eleven history. The tandem has broken club records and is on their way to what appears to be a trip to the playoffs in their inaugural USL season, as Dos Santos laments another stepping stone in an already successful career.
Despite his increasing success as an assistant coach, head coaching is still the goal for Dos Santos. Even though Indianapolis was a sought after destination for the native of Canada, complementing the city as a family friendly community with a club that possesses strong ownership and a supportive fan base, he eagerly awaits his shot as a head coach.
“It needs to be in the right place at the right time because you don’t have ten shots at it,” Dos Santos emphasized. “But I believe that I am equipped for it and that one day I will.”
For now, Dos Santos is committed to the Circle City where he will continue to give his new squad, organization, and city everything he has.
“You want to reach the highest level possible, but I promised myself I would remain balanced and grateful for what I have,” Dos Santos said. “As an assistant I’ll always bring my 200 percent.”
It’s now been nearly 10 years since Dos Santos has had a quality bourbon he says. He still enjoys cognac and wine, but he’s waiting for the right time to have another glass of the American made whisky he tells his wife. Hopefully for Dos Santos and Indy Eleven, the right time will come at the end of a successful playoff run.