By FRANCO PANIZO
In terms of performances this season, the Montreal Impact have had moments where they have looked far from an expansion team. In terms of results, they are exactly an expansion team.
A month into their inaugural MLS season, the Impact boast an underwhelming 0-3-1 record, which is tied for second-worst in the league with the Philadelphia Union. The negative results have come despite the Impact showing glimpses of being a team capable of playing good soccer.
From their home-opening draw with the Chicago Fire to the first half of their most recent loss to the New York Red Bulls, Montreal has demonstrated it is more advanced than most expansion teams of the past. That still has not stopped the negative results and critiques from raining in, but the Impact believe they have played better than their record shows. They'll have to maintain a high level of play if they are to earn a result at Rio Tinto Stadium Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake (9 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick).
"To start the season, our performances for the most part have been pretty good," said Impact captain Davy Arnaud. "We just haven't gotten results."
The Impact's most recent result, a 5-2 loss to the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, was a sign that the team still has some maturing to do. Montreal went ahead twice in the first half, but both times the Impact surrendered the lead, including on a stoppage-time penalty kick that came about because of a clumsy challenge by centerback Matteo Ferrari.
That costly error seemed to rattle the Impact's nerves, as the Red Bulls came out of the intermission with the momentum and control of the game. A sloppy turnover by Zarek Valentin not long after halftime led to a goal. That was followed by a poor defensive play on the right flank that allowed for another goal, before goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts spilled a shot that Thierry Henry pounced on for the final tally late in the game.
"I think we need to understand that in order to be successful, we have to stick to what we're good at and to playing as a group," said Impact head coach Jesse Marsch. "If we now play with guys on their own page and trying their own thing and not stay organized and disciplined in what we think is important, then we're going to have a lot of trouble."
With any expansion team, the chemistry is always a work in progress, and the Impact are not immune to that. At times this season, forwards Sanna Nyassi, Justin Braun and Bernardo Corradi have played well together. Other times they have looked disjointed, meaning there's plenty of room for improvement.
"That stuff takes a while and you develop it over the time," said Arnaud. "The mood is okay. We're obviously frustrated that we haven't gotten the results that we would have wanted so far, but we're dedicated to what we're doing, and we're committed to keep pushing in the right direction and get us where we want to be."
Another area that the Impact admit they need to improve on is their defense. In their four March matches, Montreal has given up 10 goals. Part of that may be because they played three of their four games on the road, but that defensive frailty needs to be corrected if Montreal is to right the ship.
"We have to be even tougher to play against," said Arnaud. "That's one thing we want to be, we want to be tough to play against, and we'll continue to try and improve that. At the end of the day, you've got to give up less goals. That will help us get results."
The Impact's next chance to pick up their first three-point haul of the year will come under difficult circumstances in one of the most difficult places to play. Montreal will need a complete performance at Rio Tinto in order to pull out a result, let alone a win.
That means Marsch will need to make his team forget about their second-half collapse to the Red Bulls and focus on an RSL team that is coming off a dramatic road win over the Portland Timbers. Veteran players, like Arnaud, Ricketts and Canadian Patrice Bernier, can also help with that process.
"As an older player, any of our older players, try and set a good example," said Arnaud. "A lot of guys who have played the game for a long time have been through moments where you're not getting results that you think that maybe you should be getting.
"You just got to know, and let the other guys know, that if the performances are good and the attitude is right, the points will come."
If the Impact are able to address their areas of concern soon enough, the points will indeed come.
Then they might be looked at less as an expansion team and more as a club learning and playing well beyond its years.
Sure, there are players available, but those players have an annoying tendency to want a paycheck. And there are scouting costs, xfer fees, etc. teams completely dependent on foreign players simply don’t thrive for long, anywhere. (cough, Chelsea, cough) look at the backbones of every top flight leading club in the past few years, United, Real, Barca, Inter, Juve, Bayern, Milan, Pool… All are built with mostly domestic players, with a handful of long term internationals. Renting international players is a really tough, really expensive way to build a team. It becomes even harder in lower divisions. It’s one thing to recruit a young African player to New York, it’s a whole other thing to lure them to Rochester. You need either a lot of money, or a brand. And those are in short supply around here.
MLS only works because of the current business model. We have to wait until the entire soccer system matures and more Americans convert to the game, unfortunately. Division 2 and 3 have to be stable for MLS to implement Pro/Relegation system.
Division 2 soccer, NASL almost folded in the 2011 season. USL Pro can barely keep a unified system that every club abides by and there’s not enough people hanging around to invest in Division 2 and 3 soccer. MLS barely is able to find owners. The players are not the problem. Sure we can get foreign players, but who’s going to pay them. It’s ownership of the clubs that’s the issue. We people with deep pockets and markets to support them. North Carolina almost lost their division 2 team, Carolina RailHawks, for the simple reason of ownership who didn’t want to spend money, classic example of what I mean.
Considering most teams have 12 or 13 foreign players I think there’s plenty of talent around the world for more teams. Its not like the NFL where all the players are American.
You’re a little zealous in your criticism. The league is too young and there’s not enough of a justify soccer market to compete between USL Pro, NASL and MLS. The MLS system would crumble without the single entity for now. Unfortunately we have to be patient and wait for the entire soccer system to mature. That means Division 2 and 3 soccer have to mature and become very stable markets. Division 2 and 3 soccer in America are very unstable. MLS is the only very stable soccer system in America for now.
Impact really isn’t MLS caliber, but instead are division 2 NASL club. They don’t belong in MLS. The club has money, but their technical ability is horrid. Pro/Relegation system want work for now. The league is too young and there’s not enough of a justify soccer market to compete between USL Pro, NASL and MLS. The MLS system would crumble. Unfortunately we have to be patient and wait for the system to mature. Division 2 and 3 soccer in America is not stabilized.
Montreal has some pretty poor foreign signings. Teams in MLS get players from top teams in Scandanavia or top teams in Colombia as their foreign signings. Some siginings are players from Africa that play on their national teams. Montreal’s signings are way below that level.
I think it’s incredibly straightforward, they had their mitts on Ching, Johnson, and Barbara, and settled for a much weaker attacking lineup. Hence 3 GF, 2 shutouts, etc. It’s like Houston with even less punch and more fouling and GA.
Now the argument would be that they are approaching this as an expansion team that intends to accumulate players, and that’s fair as far as it goes, but the forwards are abysmal and their “squatting” strategy (draft Ching, claim Barbara, draft Johnson) arguably did not net enough in return to justify the weakness you’re left with when you pick a solid pro and trade them for a draft pick you can’t use til next year.
Since the only thing they can control right now is defense I’d suggest they get that under control. Depending what they do over the summer I think they could be historically bad a la Chivas because the talent level is so modest. The argument is you’re free to build a younger, less-structured team over the years if you don’t sign expensive players year 1, but that means you field a week year 1 side, and looking at some teams that have fielded young, future-oriented teams like Chivas, it’s debatable if you necessarily must turn the corner, or if you are forever playing catchup, and doing so from a standpoint where recruits evaluating their prospective team are confronted with a scary W-L record that actually makes it harder to sign people….
I call it the Brian Ching curse.
It’s because there jerseys suck. Down with adidas.
This represents a view that says there is only one way of doing something. A one size fits all mentality. No sport will go from little popularity to being number one overnight but MLS is growing and so is the popularity of the sport in North America. The players are improving, the goals are show world class display of skill (IE Nagbe’s recent self volley) and MLS is successful. Not sure of the argument against that.
Ask Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake, KC etc if they’ve experienced zombification? Each of these cities, clubs and supporters have developed their own flavor of the game. Also I don’t remember Seattle or Portland having won it all in their second tier leagues the year before they entered MLS.
With the right leadership and decent owners Montreal will be competing in a few years time. Why would anyone expect them be better in their first year?
It takes time to integrate into MLS. They aren’t the same team they were pre-expansion draft.
I expect several changes in RSL’s lineup from last week. Look for Velazquez, Gil, Schuler etc…
Beat that horse! I’m in favor of pro/rel, but making those arguments at this point is akin to yelling at clouds.
Ahhhhm, only in the Don Garber universe of make believ does a team get “promoted” after finishing 2nd to bottom in the 2nd division.
Until MLS/NASL and USL don’t develop proper promotion/relegation, until MLS gets rid of the single entity, the college draft, the stupid stupid MLS All Star Game, there are no surprises there.
Football will be presented to the American public in a bottled down NFL/NBA style: fans are told when to cheer, how loud to get, etc.
Zombification at its best. Just because Unlce Joey has $, it doesn’t mean that his team deserves automatic promotion to the MLS;. Awful side like the Montreal Impact not only brings down the level of the league, but it undermines credibility of the allegedly “major” league.