It’s the start of something new at the Montreal Impact.
Out went Mauro Biello and in came Remi Garde, as the Impact followed in the footsteps of many MLS teams by recruiting a high-profile coach. The Frenchman brought friends and former colleagues from back home to form his staff.
Former Lyon B team head coach Maxence Flachez joins as assistant coach and former Lyon goalkeeper coach, and mentor to such keepers as Gregory Coupet and Hugo Lloris, Joël Bats signed on as goalkeeper coach.Wilfried Nancy is the only from the Biello days remaining on as assistant in the new Garde era.
But the turnover doesn’t end there. The Impact cleared house.
“This year it was more or less a change of 90 to 95 percent of the staff that was involved in the day to day,” Evan Bush told SBI Soccer.
According to Bush however, the connection between Garde and his immediate staff helped palliate with the turnaround. There are a lot of new faces around but these new faces knew each other from before and it helped linking up the coaching staff to the medical staff and onto the players.
“I think from that we didn’t really skip a beat because the staff had been together and we didn’t have to wait for the staff to get to know each other and get that comfort level,” Bush said. “If you’re waiting on that, the team building portion has to come after that.
“I feel like we’re probably ahead of schedule from what most people think we are.”
The Impact and their players believe that following the trend of hiring high-profile coaches raises the team’s profile. It also raises the expectations within the team and their aspirations for success.
“I think it shows the intent of this club to go and win championships,” Chris Duvall told SBI Soccer. “It’s a very strong understanding within our group that we’re here to win trophies and I think that bringing Remi in is a direct sign of that.”
For Bush, the European style of coaching also amounts to a lot. As opposed to a North American hand-on coaching role, Garde conducts himself as a manager.
“I think it could be important to be able to distance yourself at times from sessions and just be able to evaluate, see what’s going on and be able to make decisions based off of that. That’s a big change especially from last year,” Bush said.
On the session or off it, Garde and his staff had prepared a solid training camp for their players. In order to be fully prepared for the 2018 season, the new coaching staff put their players through what Bush, who experience all eight training camps since the Impact joined MLS, called “the heaviest preseason we’ve had since we’ve come to MLS.”
“I think we worked harder than the previous years so we really set a foundation of what they want the team to be about,” he said. “Not only physical hard work and being able to keep up with other teams fitness-wise but also creating that mental strength that goes along with that type of work.”
Here’s a closer look at the Impact:
Montreal Impact Season Preview
2017 FINISH: 11-17-6 (9th in the East)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Saphir Taider, Raheem Edwards, Michael Petrasso, Jukka Raitala, Jeisson Vargas
KEY LOSSES: Blerim Dzemaili, Patrice Bernier, Laurent Ciman, Ambroise Oyongo, Ballou Tabla
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Saphir Taïder
The new No. 8 will want to continue in the stride of Patrice Bernier, the last player to wear the number. The Designated Player comes in from Bologna FC with the intentions to take up the empty space left by Blerim Dzemaili, who made the return trip to Bologna. The Algerian international has the potential to become the Impact’s long-awaited box-to-box midfielder.
PRESSURE IS ON: Matteo Mancosu
Mancosu heads into a redemption-like season after having an abysmal year in 2017. The Italian severely under produced last season after a good showing in the 2016 playoffs. With Anthony Jackson-Hamel pushing and a new head coach in Remi Garde, Mancosu will need to pick up his goal production in order to stay in Montreal for the foreseeable future.
At the top of the Impact’s newcomer list is the team’s new Designated Player Saphir Taïder coming from Bologna FC. His DP tag is not the only eye-catching aspect, however, as he will be sporting the number eight, which was previously worn by freshly retired captain Patrice Bernier.
“With the history that the No. 8 has in Montreal with Patrice wearing it before, I think he’s the perfect guy to wear it next,” Duvall said. “He’s a workhorse on both sides of the ball, extremely clean, he’s got everything you ask from a No. 8. Adding him has been huge for our group.”
The expectations are high however, not only will he be wearing a famous number in Montreal but he will be asked to take over for Blerim Dzemaili who took the opposite trip back to Bologna. The team does have faith that the Algerian international will do very well for himself and then add a layer to it.
“With those two things right away, the expectations are pretty high for him,” said Bush. “But I said a few weeks ago that he comes into this league and automatically steps in to become one of the top No. 8s in the league and that’s pretty high praise.”
“He might not score a ton of goals and get a ton of assists,” said Bush. “But if you can appreciate the subtleties of the game, somewhat in the same way that my buddy Darlington Nagbe brings to the table, I think that Saphir’s going to be the same way.”
“A lot of people over the years have complained about the stats and the poise that he has but the true soccer aficionados would understand that there’s much more to the game than scoring assists and goals.”
A big point of business for the Impact has been the backline and the team’s defensive presence. For Duvall, the team “gave up an unacceptable amount of goals” last season.
“This year, instead of it being about the returning back four or just the back line defending, it’s all 11 players defending together. That’s something we’ve been performing this preseason,” said Duvall. “Throughout the season as we grow in chemistry the offensive end will come on more clearly but right now I think we’ve done a very good job of showing up our defence and making sure that we won’t be conceding too many goals.”
In terms of objectives for the season, the Impact aim to make the playoffs after missing out last year. Ultimately, with a very new team and a very new coaching staff, patience is the name of the game for Bush.
“[The team needs to] know that after three or four weeks, it doesn’t mean that if you’re not in [a playoff spot] you’re out of the playoffs,” said Bush. “It just means that you’re trying to figure out where you are as a team.”
“If we’re first in the conference we’re there for the rest of the season and if we haven’t gotten a point, then it doesn’t mean that we’re out of the playoffs. We’ve all seen crazier things happen in this league.”