GUADALAJARA, Mexico – If Jesse Marsch wanted an easy start to preseason for his Montreal Impact team, this wasn't it.
The heat, altitude and top-quality opposition made for a tough test for the Impact, but the Canadian team coped admirably and ground out a 0-0 draw on Sunday against a Chivas de Guadalajara team containing four first-team regulars.
“I feel like we were organized and there were ideas there,” Marsch told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “We're not fit yet and we're not sharp yet, but as a starting point, I think it was a good first time on the field together.”
The game – three 30-minute periods in which the Impact changed its entire team at each interval – started an hour later than scheduled and was far from the normal preseason friendly. The tempo was high and tackles flew in from both teams.
Sanna Nyassi looked dangerous on the right wing for the Impact, midfielder Ian Westlake bossed the midfield and Nelson Rivas showed signs that he could become the rock at the center of the defense over the coming season.
Chivas had the better of the possession, but the Impact's comparative height advantage made it dangerous from set pieces throughout the game. Marsch employed a 4-4-2 formation over the three periods, but admitted he may experiment in upcoming preseason friendlies.
“There are a lot of guys who can play a lot of different spots, so we'll have to figure out exactly which formation works for us, too,” he said.
Aaron Schoenfeld, who looked dangerous throughout the second period for the Impact, came closest to giving the Canadian team the lead, but was just inches from getting on the end of a low cross from the right wing in the 52nd minute. Chivas were mainly restricted to shots from outside of the area.
Marsch praised his players not just for the performance on the field, but for their efforts during the Guadalajara training camp so far.
“It's been great, the guys have worked their butts off, and that's why we came here,” explained Marsch. “It's at elevation, it's hot, the competition is good. The energy has been great in the camp.”
The Impact have further games scheduled against Estudiantes Tecos (Tuesday), ITESO (Wednesday) and Atlas (Thursday), and Marsch said places in the starting 11 for Montreal’s March 10 season opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps were up for grabs.
“We have, as a staff, certain ideas, but there is a lot of competition still for every spot,” said Marsch. “But we do need to figure out what our premier group is so that they start to really get to know each other.”
That doesn’t mean the Impact are done accumulating additional pieces, though.
Speculation about Montreal bringing in a Designated Player has filled column inches, but Marsch kept tight-lipped on the situation, although he did admit it may not be in the near future.
“We're still committed to trying to find a DP,” he said. “I'm not sure if it'll happen in the January window, or if it'll be something that gets done by April, or if it happens in the summer window, but there has been good dialogue with different guys and we'll see where it goes.”
Montreal Impact lineups
First period: Donovan Ricketts, Simon Gatti, Nelson Rivas, Gienir Garcia, Josh Gardner, Sanna Nyassi, Felipe, Ian Westlake, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Eduardo Sebrango, Brian Ching
Second period: Greg Sutton, Simon Gatti (Calum Mallace 45'), Nevio Pizzolitto, Francisco Mendoza, Tyson Wahl, Bryan Arguez, Patrice Bernier, Evan James, Davy Arnaud, Juan José Peña, Aaron Schoenfeld
Third period: Evan Bush, Calum Mallace, Shavar Thomas, Hassoun Camara, Daniel Arcila, Reda Agourram, Collen Warner, Gerson Mayen, Justin Mapp, Miguel Montaño, Justin Braun