A new soccer team is taking shape in the Bay Area, with a distinctly Canadian feel.
Marc Dos Santos, whose coaching resume includes Ottawa Fury FC and the Montreal Impact, has called on several Canadian players as well as talent from Canadian teams to bring the San Francisco Deltas to life.
The North American Soccer League squad features Canadian defenders Nana Attakora (Toronto FC, San Jose, D.C. United) and Karl W. Ouimette (Montreal Impact, New York Red Bulls) and midfielder Kyle Bekker (Toronto, Montreal).
“It’s important to say this has to do with my Canadian connections and at the same time it doesn’t,” said Dos Santos. “Because building a team, you want to win and when you want to win, you try to bring the best player possible that your budget allows you to.
“I think Karl, Nana and Kyle, in a different way, they all bring an important piece to the roster and are going to play an important role. So I’m happy to have them with us.”
French goalkeeper Romuald Peiser and U.S. forward Tommy Heinemann played for Dos Santos in Ottawa. Assistant coach Andrea Di Pietrantonio worked with him in Montreal.
Pablo Dyego spent time in Ottawa while fellow Brazilian winger Jackson played six seasons in MLS, including two with Toronto FC.
Michael Stephens (Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire) and Devon Sandoval (Real Salt Lake) also have MLS experience. Others like Peiser, Cristian Portilla and Kenny Teijsse have European credentials.
The Deltas beat the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 in February in a closed-door match,
“I think there’s enough experience in our roster on any given day to beat an MLS roster,” Dos Santos said. “So I wasn’t surprised by the result.”
He has been pleasantly surprised by how quickly his team, is coming together.
San Francisco opens the season March 25 when it hosts Indy Eleven at Kezar Stadium, which was the 49ersâ€™ home until 1970 and housed the Oakland Raiders for one year. Reduced in size, it now accommodates 10,000.
“A lot of history … This stadium is special,” said Dos Santos.
While no stranger to helping build teams from the ground floor from his time in Ottawa and Kansas City, where he ran the MLS side’s fledgling USL squad, the 39-year-old Dos Santos says San Francisco is a different challenge.
The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the Fury, also runs teams in the CFL and OHL. The Swope Park Rangers, Sporting Kansas City’s USL team, come under the umbrella of the MLS franchise.
“The Deltas are just one team and it’s in a city incredibly challenging when it comes to preparing for housing for the players, training facility … I think that the mission we have ahead is much more difficult than any other before,” said Dos Santos.
The Deltas train on city-owned fields and have found themselves shifting via vans from grass to artificial turf 15 minutes away at short notice if the elements don’t co-operate at their normal training ground.
The team is owned by a group of Silicon Valley and Brazilian entrepreneurs with CEO Brian Andres Helmick already making himself readily available to fans through Q-and-As and social media.
“He wants to make sure that we’re here to stay, so he feels he that the club â€” to work in a city like San Francisco â€” has to be accessible to the community … He leads by example.”
The fans are already into it, with the official supporters’ group called Delta Force.
Dos Santos took over as Montreal coach in May 2009 in the Impact’s pre-MLS days. He left in 2011 for Brazil where he coached youth teams at FC Primeira Camisa and SE Palmeiras before taking over Desportivo Brasil.
He returned in 2013 to coach Ottawa, winning coach of the year honours and leading the Fury to the NASL championship game in 2015.
Dos Santos spent 2016 as head coach of the Swope Park Rangers. He says he loved Sporting Kansas City’s organization and vision, but nevertheless found the job limiting.
“The only thing that I felt that was holding me back as a coach is not being able to have full control of the roster,” he said. “When you’re a reserve team coach, there’s a lot of little things that you don’t control … it’s just a different dynamic that I think limited myself where I wanted to be as a coach. I think you have to have a very specific DNA to coach a reserve team.”
A Canada-Portugal dual citizen, Dos Santos speaks English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press