The city that demands champions of its professional sports teams finally has one to brag about. The Montreal Impact, despite a poor start to the 2009 season, ended their season on the highest of notes by winning the USL-1 Championship. This is the team's third championship with the previous ones coming in 1994 and 2004.
During the first 10 games of the season the future did not look bright for the Impact. They were eliminated in the first round of the CONCACAF Champions League, the coach was fired, stalwart goaltender Matt Jordan had lost his starting position, and midfielder Sandro Grande was cut from the team after choking captain (and friend) Mauro Biello during a game. No one was hopeful.
Despite the slow start the owners (more about the Saputo family later) and management had a vision for the team and they stuck to it. Relieving John Liminiatis of his coaching duties must not have been an easy decision, but they did so for the betterment of the team. Once Marc Dos Santos was installed as the coach you could see that he had a vision and the will to impose it. A story has been circulating that the first thing he did when he was hired was post up a picture of the USL-1 championship cup in the dressing room and tell his players that that is what they were aiming for. Dos Santos believed in the team and they began to believe in each other. They began to play as a team and not a group of talented individuals.
Fan support for the team never wavered even in the down times. Attendance remained strong with 10,000-13,000 showing up to cheer their team on. Soccer has not always been a sport in the spotlight in Canada, but due to its large immigrant population from countries in which soccer is like a religion, Montreal has always been a good soccer market. Recognizing that the Saputo family bought the franchise in 1992 and have been model owners since. Building their own soccer exclusive stadium last year was the latest in a long line of things that the family has done to show their commitment to the team and soccer fans in Montreal.
The Impact roster looks like a strong one and will continue to be so in the near future. In nets Matt Jordan is one of the best in the league and an intense competitor. This season also showed us that his backup, Srdjan Djekanovic, is a more than able keeper. We are solid in nets.
Late in the season the forward duo of Roberto Brown and Peter Byers became a force to be reckoned with. With Byers's speed and strength and Brown's smarts and vision they complimented each other well. As for substitutes not many teams can say that they have quality players like Eduardo Sebrango and Rocco Placentino able to come on to relieve their starting strikers.
David Testo was the leader and the workhorse (and the team's most valuable player for the 2009 season) in the midfield. He is always there (playing the most minutes of any player on the Impact) and performs the job of holding midfielder better than most in the league. Testo is always there to score an important goal or help out on defence. Plus the team can look forward to a full season from Patrick Leduc, who was out injured for most of the 2009 season. The only question mark in the midfield for next season is whether 16 year veteran Mauro Biello will be back for one more kick at the can or if he will retire.
On defence they were able to remain strong despite some new faces. Veteran player Stephen deRoux, normally a midfielder, played out of position as a fullback for almost the entire season and got stronger as the season went on. He adds plenty of speed and offensive ability to the Impact's defence.
Backup players like defender Hicham Aaboubou, midfielder Felix Brillant, midfielder Pierre-Rudolph Mayard, and defender Alex Suprenant show that the team is set for the future or in the case of some injuries.
The future looks good for the team with them being the defending league champions in the 2010 season and an eventual move to the MLS (top tier soccer league in North America) eminent. There are a few things to be taking care of in the off-season, like a few free agents to sign to keep the winning team intact (Joey Saputo has been quoted that he is expecting this to happen) and the "interim" label taken off Coach Marc Dos Santos's title. All fans of the team should be looking forward to another strong season for the Montreal Impact in 2010, but for now let's all just enjoy winning the championship.