Montreal Impact set to kick off 2018 season with new management and many new players
After a disappointing 2017 season, the Montreal Impact is preparing to kick off the 2018 Major League Soccer (MLS) season. They missed the playoffs by 11 points with a 11-17-6 record last year. Based on a new coaching staff and new players, The Concordian is trying to figure out how the Impact can have a bounce-back season.
Changing of the Garde
After losing nine of the last 10 games in the 2017 season, the Impact fired head coach Mauro Biello. In comes Rémi Garde, who further changed the team around by hiring his own coaching staff. Garde previously coached at Lyon in France and Aston Villa in England.
Besides keeping assistant coach Wilfried Nancy, Garde has brought in assistant coach Maxence Flachez, a former youth coach at Lyon; goalie coach Joël Bats, Lyon’s goalie coach for the past 17 seasons; and fitness coach Robert Duverne, who was Garde’s fitness coach when he coached Lyon and Aston Villa.
Garde is making a huge statement, and is clearly trying to run the club the way he did at Lyon. Will a European management style work in North America? Many past MLS coaches have tried with little success.
In order for Garde’s French style to be successful, he will need to adapt his tactics to a North American game. That’s not to say he needs to play the North American way, but rather change his French style to conform to a more physical, less-skilled MLS game.
Fresh faces on the field
The Impact has a new-look roster this season, with 10 new players replacing the 12 departed ones.
The biggest change came at defence, where the team needed it. Last season, they allowed 58 goals in 34 games, the seventh-worst mark out of 22 teams in the league. The Impact traded away leader and 2015 MLS Defender of the Year Laurent Ciman for full-backs Raheem Edwards and Jukka Raitala, while right-back Ambroise Oyongo signed in France and veteran Hassoun Camara retired. Garde signed six-foot-three defender Zakaria Diallo, and Canadian international full-back Michael Petrasso joined the team. The Impact hopes the new defence will solve their issues.
The midfield is also younger and more dynamic. Ignacio Piatti, 33, and Marco Donadel, 34, are the only midfielders over the age of 25. When attacking midfielder Blerim Džemaili returned to Italy to play for his former team, Bologna F.C.—which is part-owned by Impact owner Joey Saputo—the Impact acquired Algerian midfielder Saphir Taïder from Bologna. The Impact will miss Džemaili’s offensive skills and chemistry with Piatti, but Taïder is younger and more skilled, so it will be exciting to see what attack he can bring.
O Captain! My Captain!
With former captain Patrice Bernier retired, the Impact needs a player, or multiple players, to take over and become a leader. Goalie Evan Bush has been with the club since 2011, while Piatti is entering his fifth season with the Impact. Donadel, defender Víctor Cabrera and forward Dominic Oduro are the only other players who have been with the Impact since before the 2016 season. Each of them will need to step up their roles as leaders to integrate everyone into a unified team.
With an inexperienced group, the Impact needs maturity from their young stars. Samuel Piette, the 23-year-old Repentigny native, could be considered one of those leaders. The same goes for forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel, who scored the second-most goals last season, with nine.
With so many changes to the Montreal Impact, fans will see how they perform together starting March 4 in Vancouver against the Whitecaps.
Main graphic by Zeze Le Lin.