It looked as though the Montreal Impact were set to have an impressive second season in MLS. They won their first four games and lost just once in their opening eight matches. A win in the Canadian Championship meant the Impact were into the CONCACAF Champions League group stages. All in all, it was an auspicious start.
But by the end of the season, Montreal had all but faded away. The fates were cruel and the Impact managed just one win in their last eight matches, losing six of those eight. They still squeaked into the playoffs, but looked toothless against the Houston Dynamo, losing 3-0 in the knockout stages and going down to eight men by the last minute of the match.
Now it’s time for the league’s newest Canadians to prove that they’ve made it past their sophomore slump. Last year, when the losses came, they simply couldn’t shake them off and rise up once more. It wasn’t as though the Impact were lacking in experience: Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta, Patrice Bernier, Davy Arnaud, Troy Perkins...there really seemed to be no excuse for not pulling themselves out of the doldrums. But with the essential core of players retained (although Nesta has retired and Arnaud is in D.C.) and a new coach on hand to offer new ideas it’s hard to believe this team can’t improve on their performances of last season.
Players In: Santiago González (Designated Player, Sud América), Eric Miller (SuperDraft)
Players Out: Alessandro Nesta (Retired); Davy Arnaud (Trade to DC United for international roster slot); Zarek Valentin (Transfer); Paolo DelPiccolo, Maximiliano Rodríguez, Sinisa Ubiparipovic (all option declined)
Key Player: Marco Di Vaio
Of course this has to be the veteran striker. He turned 37 partway through last season, yet still managed to score an impressive 20 goals in the league. But considering the Italian had just five in his shortened 2012 season, and had just two seasons with 20 or more goals prior to 2013, it seems likely that Di Vaio will fade somewhat.
That means others will need to fill the gap, providing an alternative plan that former coach Marco Schällibaum just never seemed to have at his fingertips. The addition of young Santiago González could prove vital, should the forward’s skills translate well into MLS. He helped guide his Uruguay side Sud América to promotion before being snapped up by the Impact, and if he can provide a spark that helps take some of the burden off Di Vaio, the Impact’s attack could very well be a consistent threat this season.
Manager: Frank Klopas moves from the Chicago Fire, who finished sixth in the East last season, to take over as head coach for Montreal. Many fans didn’t seem all that impressed by the hiring, particularly due to the Fire’s missing out on the playoffs last season. But Klopas’s former club were nudged out only due to having fewer goals scored than Montreal, and by the end of last season, Chicago’s play had taken a turn for the better. Patience might be key for Klopas, but will he find it?
Outlook: Montreal haven’t made many changes during the offseason, which seems a bit strange for a side that declined so much in the second half of last season. They appear to be betting that the ideas from Klopas, combined with the strength of a core group of players, can ensure a better finish this season. The play is likely to be more entertaining, at least, but it remains to be seen whether the team has done enough to ensure a higher finish or a deeper run in the playoffs.