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Montreal Impact embrace youth movement with recent deals

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A youth movement is in full swing in Montreal this offseason. The Montreal Impact have been extremely proactive in recent weeks, securing Canadian Men’s National Team defender Kamal Miller at the 2020 MLS Expansion Draft. The Canadian side agreed to send $225,000 in General Allocation Money as well as the 11th overall draft pick at the 2021 MLS Superdraft to Austin FC after the expansion side selected Miller.

The Impact continued its busy offseason on Thursday, signing  Djordje Mihailovic with $800,000 in GAM spread equally over two years going to the Chicago Fire. The 22-year-old will reportedly pen a contract worth $700,000 upon joining the Impact, highlighting their faith in the young midfielder.

The Impact’s latest moves confirm a recent trend since Olivier Renard became the side’s sporting director. The Belgian has not hidden his desire to build a young core in Montreal, bringing in a number of talents with high upside.

“We are really happy with the acquisition of this young American international player that fits in our sporting project,” said Renard. “We add to the roster a creative and versatile player in the attacking department.”

Mihailovic has already made six appearances with the U.S. Men’s National Team and will now be looking to take the next step in his career. The 22-year-old joins off the back of his most productive season in Major League Soccer, registering two goals and seven assists in 14 starts.

The Impact have been crying out for a more creative outlet in the final third and quickly targeted Mihailovic. The former Chicago Fire man is at his best when deployed at attacking midfield and will be hoping to replicate last season’s impressive exploits with the bleu, blanc et noir.

Bojan’s inconsistencies ultimately led to the Impact declining their option for the former Barcelona man. Mihailovic’s arrival casts further doubt on the Spaniard’s future, given their similar profiles. Much like it was the case with Mason Toye, Renard wasted no time negotiating, offering the Fire a healthy fee for its academy graduate.

Renard will be hoping Mihailovic can strike a partnership with the former Minnesota United hitman, offering the Impact some dynamism in the final third. Toye has shown glimpses of his potential since joining in the summer but has struggled to adapt to Henry’s setup. The 22-year-old will only improve with a full pre-season under his belt. The Impact have taken quite the gamble on the young Americans, shelling out over $1,400,000 in GAM to secure them.

Tottenham Hotspur academy standout Luis Binks is another prospect the Impact were extremely keen on signing. The Englishman arrived in February and has established himself as an integral piece in Henry’s setup. Binks featured 25 times in all competitions for the Impact this season, leading their rearguard with great aplomb. The 19-year-old has since been linked with a move away from the club following his impressive debut season, prompting the Impact to plan ahead.

The Canadian side quickly agreed to terms with Austin FC, with the expansion side selecting Miller for them in the Expansion Draft on Wednesday.  Miller’s arrival offers Henry some much-needed depth at the back as the 23-year-old is versatile enough to play leftback or left centerback.

The former Orlando City defender will slot in seamlessly in the Impact’s backline, be it centrally, or out wide, and will help Henry’s side build out from its own defensive third. Miller has demonstrated he is comfortable with the ball at his feet and regularly looks to break lines.

“We are happy with the acquisition of this young Canadian international, who had a great 2020 season,” Renard. “Kamal is a left-footed defender with a different style than what we already have at this position.”

The Impact brought in further depth at fullback this offseason, signing Montreal native Zorhan Bassong. The 21-year-old came through Lille’s youth ranks, making 31 appearances for them before returning to Montreal. Bassong is predominantly a left back, but has featured on the opposite wing at times. Zachary Brault-Guillard has made the right back spot his own this season but could benefit from healthy competition.

Mustafa Kizza is another one of Renard’s recent exports, joining the Impact in the summer. The Ugandan impressed in his limited appearances thus far, bombing forward at will from a left wingback position. Kizza thrives when tasked with delivering balls into the strikers and played an integral role in Romell Quioto’s winner on Decision Day.

At just 23 years old, Kizza is one of many budding young prospects in the Impact’s rejuvenated defensive core. Academy graduate James Pantemis stepped up admirably when called upon this season, demonstrating he is another talent ready for more minutes going into 2021. Renard confirmed the club’s faith in the young shot-stopper, opting to expose Clement Diop instead of him in the Expansion Draft.

The Impact was in dire need of a shakeup at the back after conceding an Eastern Conference worst 43 goals this season and did just that. The arrivals of Miller, Kizza, and Bassong will add some much-needed quality and depth at the back, all-while getting younger.

Beyond addressing needs at the club, Mihailovic and Miller’s signings indicate Renard’s intentions to oversee a youth movement in Montreal. Earlier in the month, the Impact announced four of its academy players – Jean-Aniel Assi, Sean Rea, Nathan-Dylan Saliba, and Rida Zouhir – will all be with the first team in 2021.

Renard has been aggressive this offseason in hopes of handing Henry all the tools he will need ahead of his second season in MLS. The changes in Montreal are plentiful, especially as a potential rebrand looms over the club. While the reported name change may divide opinion, the club’s youth movement offers the Impact faithful a glimmer of hope ahead of the new season.

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