Home Sports Is there still a “buzz” surrounding the Impact?

Is there still a “buzz” surrounding the Impact?

by Samantha Mileto March 17, 2015
Is there still a “buzz” surrounding the Impact?

Questionable decisions made recently by management make it hard to care about the team

The Montreal Impact made history two weeks ago when they became the first Canadian soccer team to win a two-legged series against a Mexican opponent in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday, after tying Pachuca 1-1 at the Olympic Stadium on March 3. The teams also played out to a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the series.

Photo courtesy of Milas Page on Flickr.

The tie was all the Impact needed to advance into the semi-finals of the tournament, gaining the chance to win the championship, which is awarded annually to the best club in North and Central America.

I’ve always been a huge Impact fan, but I can’t find myself getting excited to watch them play in this CONCACAF tournament because of questionable decisions made by management over the years.

The Impact entered Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2012. The team impressed in their inaugural season, ending the season with a 12-16-6 record with 42 points. They brought in Italian nationals Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio, as well as Brazilian midfielder Felipe Martins. With the addition of Brossard-native Patrice Bernier, the future was bright for the club going into the 2013 season… or so we thought.

After a quick start to the 2013 season, the team went on a downward spiral and won just two of their final 11 games. They barely squeaked into the playoffs and lost in the first round to the Houston Dynamo.

One would think that big changes were imminent in the following offseason, but apparently not. Yes, Joey Saputo, president of the Impact, fired the team’s coach at the time, Marco Schallibaum, and replaced him with Frank Klopas. But sadly, a coach can’t carry a team. The product on the field didn’t change from 2013 to 2014, and neither did the results. The team finished dead last in the league in 2014, and didn’t win a road game all season.

Besides not doing anything in the offseason to improve the squad, there were so many things, in my opinion, that management did wrong that led to that miserable season.

One major problem is that Saputo is too family-oriented. Usually that would seem like a good thing, but not in this case. For example, Nick De Santis has been a part of the club since 1993. He started as a player, became the head coach in 2008 and then was promoted to manager in 2011. When someone has been a part of a team for so long, there is the loyalty factor to consider, and I think that’s why it took Saputo so long for him to finally let De Santis go over the summer.

Another problem is the inconsistency of the head coaching position. Though Saputo was patient in firing his friend, he has shown great impatience with other coaches. Since 2008, the Impact have had six coaches. Since entering the MLS, only Klopas coached the team in back-to-back seasons. And after last season’s disaster, I’m not sure how much longer Klopas has. In my opinion, Jesse Marsch, who was the team’s first coach in the MLS, did a fine job in this first season, even if the team didn’t make the playoffs.

Marsch clearly loved this city, so much so that he became pretty good in French, and even started giving interviews in French. So, why was he fired? Why couldn’t he be given a chance to see what he could really do in the second year? The team overachieved in their expansion year, unlike most expansion teams, who draw players from other teams and tend to struggle in their first couple seasons. You have to give some credit to the coach, no?

The final straw was when management started taking shots at former players, then blamed the bad season on lack of leadership. To me, that’s the epitome of unprofessionalism.
Last year, I wrote an op-ed piece for The Concordian on former Impact defender Jeb Brovsky, about why I thought he was Montreal’s unsung hero. He was so much a part of our community, especially through his charity Peace Pandemic. He was learning French, and was always seen enjoying Montreal’s finest attractions. Whether it was watching a Habs game, attending the Formula 1, or something as simple as talking to fans at the Jean Talon Market, he quickly became my favourite player for accepting our city. In June, Brovsky had a falling out with coaching staff and management over playing time.

He asked to be traded and was ultimately dealt to the expansion franchise NYCFC. This trade stung, mainly because the Impact gave Brovsky an undeserved slap in the face afterwards.

A few weeks after the trade, the team held an open practice for season-ticket holders, followed by a staff and players meet-and-greet. Giovanni Sardo, who covered the Impact for CJAD, Mount Royal Soccer and TSN 690 for three years, was also a season-ticket holder and in attendance. Sardo said that Saputo and Klopas opened the session by saying that they only wanted players who truly wanted to be on the team, players who bled blue, black and white. So, Sardo asked Saputo about Brovsky.

“Brovsky, during his time here, was one of the most active players in the community,” Sardo said. “He was a fan-favourite. He always gave his all for the team. It was 100 per cent all the time. He even bled, literally, for the team [when he broke his nose during a game last year but finished the game anyways]. I asked whether or not that fit their description of the type of player they wanted. Granted, he is not the best player in the league but he was a solid player on the defensive line and a leader within the team.”

Klopas himself said after last season that leadership was one thing that was missing in the locker room that season. So why would they trade away a player with a quality that you feel there wasn’t enough of?

“[Saputo and Klopas] stated that [Brovsky] demanded a trade,” Sardo said. “That, he wasn’t happy in Montreal and that his wife Caitlin wasn’t happy here and that she stated this often through Twitter and her blog. Both Klopas and Saputo said that they traded him because he didn’t want to be here and was unhappy.”

As soon as Sardo made these comments public on Twitter, they quickly got to Brovsky and his wife. The very next day, Brovsky asked on Twitter: “Does anyone have a link or script from this phantom ‘blog’ that was spoken of yesterday? My wife and I would both love to read it. #Merci.”

“This is what I didn’t like about this reply,” Sardo said. “If he didn’t want to be here, why would he work so hard every time he was on the field? If he didn’t want to be here, why would he be so actively involved in the community? Why ‘air out’ the team’s dirty laundry to make yourself seem like the good guy?”

I completely agree. Anyone can do a Google search to see if Brovsky’s wife had a blog, and clearly she didn’t. Saputo openly bashed one of his former employees to his fans with lies. What does that say about him? And then Saputo had the guts to the tell The Canadian Press in February that “the buzz [for the Impact] is not there anymore” when it was announced that the team fell $2 million short of their target season ticket sales last year. As of the publishing of the article in February, the team had only sold 5,000 season tickets. Well, excuse me for not feeling “the buzz,” Mr. Saputo.

Maybe it’s time to own up to your mistakes.

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