In the run up to the season’s first Cascadian derby, Prost Amerika looks at our only 2013 point of comparison, the Montreal Impact, and asks if the most recent expansion side have overtaken both local sides in terns of player quality.
Editorial: Have Montreal Overtaken the Older Expansion Sides?
If there is a Swiss German word for Cascadia – the Engine of American Soccer, its utterance will surely provoke a chuckle from Montreal head coach Marco Schallibaum.
The new head coach of the Montreal Impact must have been told he was in for a difficult baptism when the fixture list presented him with Seattle and Portland away.
Instead, l’Impact are looking down on the Eastern Conference with six points out of six from two away matches and probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
From having observed both games, Prost Amerika can see two reason for this.
Firstly, the Montreal Impact simply had better players than either of their Cascadian hosts. Although the club only arrived in Major League Soccer last year, they have cobbled together a neat mixture of experienced MLS know how journeymen, typified by Justin Mapp, and quality international stars, mostly Italian.
Glancing down their team sheet, you see names like Alessandro Nesta (78), Marco Di Vaio (14) and Matteo Ferrari (11). The numbers in brackets are not their ages or salaries, but the number of international appearances for Italy.
Elsewhere, there is Mapp (250), Davy Arnaud (275) and Troy Perkins (161). Those numbers are Major League Soccer appearances.
You can chuck in some Latin flair from Colombian Nelson Rivas and Brazil’s Felipe, and for passion add in the heart of native Quebecer Patrice Bernier who first played for Impact in 2000.
We didn’t even mention the guy who floored the Timbers with a spectacular over headkick., Hassoun Camara. From a right back as well, a goal from an overhead kick from a full back. (see video)
This is a side that already has everything on the pitch. Off it, they made what now was an admittedly bad choice for coach in Jesse Marsch. Not that anyone in Montreal has dissed him. It was simply not a good fit. Now they have Schallibaum, a man who speaks every language needed to be the head coach of a Quebec team full of Italians in an Anglophone league.
And above it all; in Joey Saputo, they have a man not afraid to spend money on his pet project. His own money.
The second factor which doesn’t augur quite so well is that their style suits playing away from home perfectly. An eager opponent, urged on by a home crowd, pushes forward. Impact’s quality defenders and defensive midfielders cover, swamp and intercept when necessary.
They do also play their fair share of long balls which takes their passing accuracy statistic down to unimpressive levels like 74% against the Timbers and 76% in Seattle. On the flip side, when they launch those speculative passes for Di Vaio and fail to find him, they still have their entire team behind the ball which is deep in enemy territory.
Both Cascadian sides were then able to console themselves with the purely statistical reality that they had controled the game. In reality, they didn’t. Mopping up pressure without a glut of goal threats is the Impact’s game plan; not Sigi Schmid’s or Caleb Porter’s.
When Impact have the ball, they play at their own pace. They have the quality to keep the ball, to prod and probe. They sit nice and deep. They have both numbers and class behind the ball.
Can they however replicate this style at home, when the visitors have the luxury of sitting back and they have the obligation to entertain the home crowd?
The first test comes on Saturday when neighbours Toronto visit in what is sure to be a highly charged derby match. With the Whitecaps resting, Montreal have the chance to be the only side with three wins.
Montreal will be tough to beat on the road but will have to take more initiative when teams come to Saputo Stadium.
Do Justin Mapp, Sanna Nyassi, Patrice Bernier, Felipe and Andrea Pisanu have the pace or creativity to thread the ball through defences more packed than the Sounders one that moved agreeably out of the way for Davy Arnaud to score in Seattle?
However from our local perspective, it is reasonable to ask the following. Do they have a stronger squad in Year 2 than Sounders and Portland in Years 5 and 3?
And if so, why?