MONTREAL – Saphir Taider is the first to admit that he’s not one to speak up all that much in the Montreal Impact locker room. But June 5 was a different kind of day.
With a team depleted by injuries and international call-ups, Taider stood up and told his teammates that they needed to win despite the odds. Not only did the team come from behind for a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders on that warm summer night, Taider scored both goals.
“I felt like I should say something, it’s not always the case, but this was a very important game,” Taider told MLSsoccer.com. “We had just lost 3-0 at home and we were off on vacation the next day. We really needed these three points, because it allowed us to work with our minds at ease for these three weeks and it’s the case right now.”
Taider arrived in Montreal from Italian side Bologna in 2018 with big shoes to fill, taking Patrice Bernier’s No. 8 jersey and occupying the club’s second Designated Player slot. Since then, his box-to-box ability has paid off for the Impact. Whereas last season Taider’s challenge was to help fans turn the page about who used to wear his number, this season the task is completely different.
On March 16, Ignacio Piatti suffered a leg injury in a 3-1 win at Orlando City SC. As the weeks went by, Piatti’s injury absence grew and the Impact have consistently been without their star player ever since. The responsibility for shouldering the burden fell on Taider. In Piatti’s absence, Taider racked up seven goals, enough to be the team’s leading scorer.
“I think he took it upon himself to step up and we’ve seen that with the goals that he’s had,” said midfielder Shamit Shome. “He’s our leading goal scorer now and he’s the man that steps up for penalty kicks and you can see with his calm and composure that he can put those away.”
Evan Bush, the team’s most tenured veteran, felt that Taider had stepped up his influence on the team at a time where they needed it.
“I think that recently his influence stepped up and I think that he’s noticed that as well,” he said. “I’ve said it after the Seattle game that if we’re going to be at our best we need him to be playing at a high level. He’s capable of doing that every week and we’ve seen that. In the second half of the season we’ll see even more so. He looks and feels, from interacting with him, that he’s ready to take on that role.”
Despite being the Impact’s leading goal scorer, the Algerian international doesn’t think that replacing Piatti is necessarily his job.
“Nacho and I don’t play the same position, so we can’t really be compared,” Taider said. “He’s a decisive player that scores so he can make a team win whereas I’m a midfielder so I can’t make a team win.”
And even with stepping up when his team needed him, he's been hobbled. For the past month and a half, he had been playing on an injured hamstring.
“I prefer giving the maximum at 80 or 90 percent because I prefer being on the field,” he said. “I don’t like to stop for an injury unless it’s really impossible for me to play. If I look back at my season I’m fairly happy with what I’ve been doing. I can always do better but we’ve got to keep it up.”
Taider's presence with the Impact was a bit of a surprise, as he wasn't called up to Algeria's Africa Cup of Nations roster after playing during qualifying. The midfielder admitted he was surprised by manager Djamel Belmadi's snub.
“We’re in June, I scored seven goals and got one assist, I don’t think another midfielder playing my position in MLS has these numbers,” Taider said. “I don’t think it was because of injury, I just think it was the coach’s decision which I respect because I like him. For tactical reasons he probably preferred taking other players and I need to respect the choices.”
Instead, Taider aims to focus on winning in Montreal. The midfielder had said that he wanted to win silverware with the Impact when he joined and it’s still on his mind. He added that Montreal aren’t seen as contenders and that puts a chip on their shoulders heading into the second half of the season.
“No one is forbidden to dream,” Taider said. “We need to have an objective in mind to either hoist the Voyageurs Cup or MLS Cup; we’re second in the [Eastern Conference standings]. The people don’t believe it, but if we don’t believe it then who will?”