2013 Montreal Preview: Can strong spine lead playoff push?
2012 record: 12-16-6 (42 points); 45 GF / 51 GA (-6 GD)
Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Montreal's 2013 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
Somehow, the Montreal sports market is allergic to quiet, relaxed offseasons.
The Impact are no different. While, by most accounts, the 2012 season had been quite good, philosophical differences meant that head coach Jesse Marsch and the Impact front office simply could not work together anymore.
Enter Marco Schällibaum, a man who, prior to his hiring, had conversations about soccer until the wee hours of the morning with Impact president Joey Saputo. With Saputo’s brutally honest assessment of his team’s performance in 2012 in mind – “We are not a seventh-place team" – Schällibaum will attempt to correct a major Montreal Impact flaw: the whole, Saputo seems to think, was not greater than the sum of its parts last season.
In and Out
IN: M Andrea Pisanu (1/4/13 - loan from Bologna); F Andrés Romero (2/7/13 - loan from Tombense)
OUT: GK Greg Sutton (10/26/12 - retirement); F Eduardo Sebrango (11/1/12 - retirement); M Evan James (11/19/12 - option declined); D Shavar Thomas (12/3/12 - option declined); D Josh Gardner (12/5/12 - traded to Sporting KC); F Bernardo Corradi (12/7/12 - retirement); M Bryan Arguez (12/7/12 - waived); F Miguel Montano (12/7/12) - waived); M Lamar Neagle (1/27/13 - trade to Seattle)
COACHING STAFF: Marco Schällibaum replaces Jesse Marsch. Assistant coaches: Mauro Biello, Philippe Eullaffroy. Goalkeeper coach: Youssef Dahha. Fitness coach: Paolo Pacione
Star Attraction: Patrice Bernier
Sure, we could wax lyrical about Bernier's creativity, passing range and leadership. But we’ll let New York Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry take it from here…
“The fans want to see players like Nesta, Di Vaio, Rivas and Ferrari. But, saying that, the key of this team is Patrice Bernier by a distance,” Henry said in July 2012. “You should give more credit to Bernier; he was the man of this team for a very long time, even when we played them before.”
Unsung Hero: Collen Warner
There is a possibility that Warner might find himself on the bench for the Impact's the opening match, but he showed such a tenacious side of himself in 2012 that he will probably claw his way back into the side. His consistent play in front of the Montreal back four, often making more interceptions and recuperating more balls than any of his teammates, allowed others in front of him to express themselves more freely. Not bad for a guy who was effectively learning the position last year.
Ready for Primetime: Andrew Wenger
Let’s start with the obvious: Marco Di Vaio will lead the Impact’s attack, and it will take an injury or Messi-like numbers from another forward to dislodge him. But since Di Vaio’s contract expires at the end of 2013 – though Montreal have options for two more years – Wenger should take advantage of his inevitable substitute appearances to stake a claim for the No. 9 shirt in the coming years. Wenger has shown, during the few games that he started, that he can play the lone forward role well. The ball is in his court.
Storylines to Watch
1. Can the Impact play 90 minutes? Conceding 17 goals in the last quarter of an hour is a recipe for disaster. The Impact know it all too well, and they swear they’ll be fitter and more concentrated in that crucial final stretch.
2. Can Marco Schällibaum find a stable back four? Injuries and various other selection issues in 2012 meant that Montreal fielded a stunning 21 different backlines in 34 league games. The veteran coach is certainly well-aware that stability is key when it comes to a solid defense.
3. Will Schällibaum transition smoothly to Major League Soccer? “He’s ready to listen,” sporting director Nick De Santis says of the Swiss tactician. The Montreal front office believe that, by working together with Schällibaum as a unit, their new coach can become one of the rare foreign-born-and-bred managers to succeed in MLS.
What He Said
“There an option for a second year [in Marco Schällibaum’s one-year contract]. If we make the playoffs, the option will be picked up automatically.”
– Impact president Joey Saputo makes it clear that good results will be an imperative in 2013
If Everything Goes Right
The “spine” of the team, sporting director Nick De Santis once said, would determine how this Montreal Impact team would progress. Over the course of last season, that spine was almost completely revamped: out went Donovan Ricketts, Tyson Wahl and Justin Braun. In came Troy Perkins, Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio – and Patrice Bernier went back to starting games. Having that spine in place right from the start of the season, Montreal believe, will get them to the playoffs. Barring any major injuries, they might just squeeze in there.