Stable roster, strong preseason have Montreal Impact optimistic heading into opener

TUKWILA, Wash. – In many cases, the arrival of a new coach at a pro soccer team means not only a change in philosophy, but a significant changes in the player corps as well.

Not for the Montreal Impact.

Despite the arrival of head coach coach Marco Schällibaum, who the Impact ownership hopes will be able to transform the squad’s strong core into a playoff-caliber team, there has been very little movement on the player front, and just two signings outside of draft picks and Homegrown players.

“We have 20 players coming back from last year, we added on maybe three or four more players, but in terms of the guys who had the most minutes last year, they’re still here,” explained Impact captain Patrice Bernier after the Impact’s lone training session in Seattle prior to the game. “The group has just grown more from last year’s experience and, with the new coach, it’s easier to get into gear when the whole group is the same and the coach comes in than if we had changed half of the team and the coach comes also.”

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Bernier’s math is not far off – of the 14 players who logged more than 1,000 minutes for the Impact in 2012, 11 are returning, including Montreal’s top five players in goals and assists, while seven out of the remaining 11 players who saw playing time will also be back.

But will the relative lack of turnover make the Impact a predictable team? Not at all, says Bernier, who pointed to one of the few offseason arrivals from outside the draft or academy, veteran Italian winger Andrea Pisanu.

“He’s got some qualities and played at a high level. He’s shown in the preseason that he can bring it,” Bernier enthused. “It’s a new player and hopefully he’ll bring us to the next level where offensively we’re not as predictable, where maybe at the end of [2012] we all knew who’s going to give the ball to the strikers.”

The first major task for this newly revitalized team? A daunting game against the Seattle Sounders at what will be a packed house at CenturyLink Field on Saturday evening (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

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And though the Impact handily defeated the Sounders 4-1 at Stade Saputo in their only meeting of 2012, they know it’s not going to be quite so easy this time around. However, Schällibaum believes that the team’s effort in preseason has more than prepared them for the occasion.

“I think from the first day until now, we have a lot of progress,” he told reporters on Friday. “The team practiced very well, the guys did good together and I think we did all the things to be ready for tomorrow tomorrow. Seattle are a good team, also at home in the stadium with 40-50,000 people, that’s not so easy to play. But football is football. If you go out there on the field and want to win, you can win.”

Added Bernier, “It’s just like the [preseason] camp in Florida – just don’t panic, stay organized and we have great players at the back. We have to weather the storm with a team that likes to play, likes to combine, and when we stay solid we’re good. We know that once we get going we can play with everybody.”