Little turnaround, little stress. At least that’s what Remi Garde and the Montreal Impact are banking on for the 2019 season.
At the team’s season ending press conference, many players including Ignacio Piatti wished for Impact coaching staff to go smoothly on the changes. Piatti’s wishes were granted by the team with very few core players leaving. Of the 13 players who left this winter, only Rod Fanni, Matteo Mancosu and Alejandro Silva were recurrent features on the starting XI.
“I’m very happy about [the little turnaround,” Samuel Piette told SBI Soccer. “I think Nacho [Piatti] said the right thing and it was a thought that a lot of us shared. During the offseason we didn’t have a lot of changes in either the squad or the coaching staff and I think it’s a positive thing for the club.”
According to the midfielder, the second year under Garde will be much easier for the squad. The Frenchman arrived in 2018 with a rigorous training program that shook up the players, the plan was to make the team one of the fittest in the league. This year, the players have had a head start at Garde’s intentions.
“Compared to last year we had a fitness program to do before preseason so I think we came in more prepare physically and mentally this year, we knew what to expect but it’s just as intense,” Piette said.
With a second year under Garde and recognizable faces to start the season, Piette is confident the Impact can top their 2018 results.
“[Because of the low turnaround] I think we are much more advanced tactically than we were last year,” Piette said. “We don’t have to repeat ourselves, it’s more about working on the details that we worked on last season and to recreate it this season.”
2019 Montreal Impact
2018 Finish: 14-16-4 (7th in the East)
Key additions: Maxi Urruti, Harry Novillo
Key losses: Rod Fanni, Alejandro Silva
Newcomer to watch: Maxi Urruti
The Impact acquired the Argentine via a trade with FC Dallas with the firm intention of making him their starting striker. Garde will have the opportunity to call upon a goal scorer with MLS experience. The Impact have been looking for a consistent goal scorer at the striker position since Didier Drogba’s departure in 2016.
Pressure is on: Anthony Jackson-Hamel
Jackson-Hamel’s future at the Impact seemed to be all but done at the end of last season. The Canadian international barely featured on the team in the second half of the campaign but is surprisingly back in 2019. With the arrival of Maxi Urruti and the loan of Orji Okwonkwo, Jackson-Hamel will need to fight for playing time up top or might be forced to a new destination as soon as this summer.
Of the new additions, the Impact managed to secure a new starter at the striker position. Goal scoring up top had been an issue for the bleu-blanc-noir last season with Matteo Mancosu, Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Quincy Amarikwa all struggling to find the back of the net. This season, the Impact will be counting on Urruti as their starting striker. The 28 year-old is an MLS veteran with over 10,500 minutes played with FC Dallas, the Portland Timbers and Toronto FC.
“I know Maxi from Dallas who had good years and good stats over there so to have a player like this on our team is a very good thing,” Piette said. “When I saw him in training it just confirmed all the thoughts I had of him, he’s a technical and talented player that also there for his teammates, works hard defensively and tracks back to get the ball.”
Along the back line, the team will have the opportunity to start from day one with Bacary Sagna. The French international came to Montreal mid-season and agreed to a one-year deal in December. The Impact also lost an important piece in center back Rod Fanni. Replacing him will be Zakaria Diallo, who was part of the team last year but missed the entire season due to an Achilles tendon injury.
“[Fanni and Diallo] have similar traits: Very strong defensively but also very at ease with the ball and will be able to help us on the counter attack,” said Piette. “We remember very well the quality that he showed [last year] in preseason, unfortunately he was sidelined due to an injury but this year he started strong and he is one of our key elements.”
The Impact have missed the playoffs in the past two seasons. In year one of the Garde era, the team had a disastrous first half but managed to pull out a successful home stretch that got them only four points outside of a playoff spot. This year, the team believes that they have what it takes to make their first playoff appearance since 2016.
“I remember that last year I said that we would make the playoffs, unfortunately it wasn’t the case,” said Piette. “This year it’s the same but it is now or never in the sense that we came close last year despite a tough start and this year with the low turnaround, the return of the coaching staff with the bases in place I honestly think it’s achievable.”