Now that the dust has kind of settled on the Jesse Marsch “mutual” (more about this later) parting of the ways I guess the 2012 season for the Montreal Impact is over. This was an important one for the franchise as it was their inaugural season in the MLS. Despite the fact that they did not make the playoffs and that they and their fans were disappointed about that I think that their first season can be chalked up as a successful one.
The Montreal Impact earned 42 points in 34 games. They ended up in 7th place in the Eastern Division and only two places out of a playoff position. It was basically their record on the road that kept them out of the playoffs as at home they were super. The start of the season was tough for the team with some understandable growing pains occurring. It took them a while to figure out a system, formation and an identity but after the half way mark of the season they really took off.
Kudos has to be given to Sporting Director Nick De Santis and coach Jesse Marsch for the team’s success in their first season. De Santis stocked the team with the players. Granted he did make some mistakes, but the pluses far outweigh the negatives. He brought a trio of Italian players who really firmed up the team. Alessandro Nesta, Marco Di Vaio and Matteo Ferrari all brought plenty of experience and skill to the team.
Di Vaio gave the team a true goal scorer with 5 goals in 17 games. It took him a while to adjust and then there was the game fixing scandal that hung over him, but when he was able to focus entirely on the game he showed that even at the age of 36 the Impact’s first designated player could have an impact on a game. With him as a mentor the team’s first draft pick this year, Andrew Wenger, should learn a lot about how to play the striker position. The Impact did have troubles scoring goals especially on the road where they only scored 14 in 17 games. If striker Bernardo Corradi (another Italian) has recovered from his knee injury then another look at him is in order. If not, I would like to see De Santis bring in another proven striker or an offensive midfielder who can support these two.
Nesta and Ferrari really shored up a defense that was a weakness at the beginning of the season. If these two are with the team next year and add to that a healthy Nelson Rivas you have a great defense. Ferrari would either come on as a substitute for the aging (but wise) Nesta or Rivas in central defense. I’m not sure that the experiment with Ferrari playing a wide position on defense is one that will work. In the few games he did play there this past season he looked a bit out of sorts and it is not a position that plays into his strengths. Other wide defenders like Jeb Brovsky, a healthy Zareck Valentin and Hassoun Camara are better options.
As for the coach Jesse Marsch this was his first head coaching job at this level and while he too made some mistakes like benching team MVP Patrice Bernier at the beginning of the season and insisting on playing Justin Mapp even though he demonstrated time and time again that he was not a player who fit into the team’s style of play he did well. The team played with the same fire that Marsch himself was known for during his playing years. They were not afraid to go in hard to try and win a ball. The competitive level never really dipped even when they were out of the playoff running the team showed up.
That being said I have to say that I (and I’m sure many others) was surprised when he stepped down as coach of the Montreal Impact shortly after the season ended for the team. It seemed to be out of the blue. It was stated at the press conference that it was a mutual decision taken for the betterment of the team. I don’t believe that for one moment. Since that time rumours have swirled that the real reason he will not be back is that he wanted the team to play a North American style whereas several players and management wanted a more European one. Whatever the real reason for his leaving (I doubt we’ll ever know) is the team is leaving for its preseason training in Italy with former player Mauro Biello (an assistant to Marsch last season) as the interim head coach.
As for the rest of the team going forward long time Impact player and fan favourite Eduardo Sebrango and veteran goalkeeper Greg Sutton have both announced their retirement. A trio of players was told by the club that they would not be returning with the Impact next season. Defender Josh Gardner, striker Evan James and defender Shavar Thomas all were released. In my personal opinion players like Justin Mapp and Sinisa Ubiparipovic don’t have a future with the club. On the trip to Italy in which they took a roster of 25 players and they will play clubs like Bologna and Fiorentino youngsters like Impact U21 midfielder Zakaria Messoudi, defender Karl Ouimette, midfielder Calum Mallace, midfielder Bryan Arguez, and defender Dennis Iapichino have a chance to impress the coaching staff.
Bottom line is that the first year in the MLS was a successful one for the Impact. They were a competitive team and knowing owner Joey Saputo no expense will be spared to make sure that the line up gets better and better from now on. Fans, who really got caught up in Impact fever this season, will continue to support the team as long as they are competitive. Montreal definitely has enough core soccer fans to support a team of this level. Here’s to the future!