Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Impact Look to Be Contenders under New Coach in Second MLS Season

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Impact Look to Be Contenders under New Coach in Second MLS Season

Article excerpt

Impact look to contend in second season

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MONTREAL - Doing better than expected as an energetic expansion team won't be enough for the Montreal Impact in their second Major League Soccer season.

They want to contend for a championship now.

And maybe they have to win now, considering their marquee veterans from Italy's Serie-A, Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta, are on the far side of 35 and nearing retirement.

"We have high profile players who could be in their last year and who are used to winning," said midfielder and local fan favourite Patrice Bernier. "They set the tone.

"I'm from here and I want to win to because it would be great to win at home. I think everybody believes 2013 could be a very good year because next year you don't know what the personnel's going to be like."

Twenty players are back from last season. While the roster looks much the same as the one that finished seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 12-16-6 record, there have been some key changes.

It starts with new coach Marco Schallibaum, a multilingual veteran of Switzerland's top league.

The 50-year-old replaces American Jesse Marsch, a first-year head coach who left the team citing philosophical differences with management.

Schallibaum's background, experience and communication skills on a team with seven Italian speakers should appease veterans like Di Vaio and Nesta, who favour a European ball-control game.

Brazilian midfelder Felipe Martins and Swiss defender Dennis Iapichino played under Schallibaum in the Swiss league before joining the Impact and speak highly of his passion and leadership.

So does American midfielder and captain Davy Arnaud.

"The last six months with everything that happened wasn't an easy situation for the club, and he's come into maybe not an ideal situation, but he's done a great job," said Arnaud. "The players have responded well to him and he's responded well to us."

The key addition to the roster is 31-year-old midfielder Andrea Pisanu, Di Vaio's former teammate at Bologna, who brings much-needed skill and vision on the right wing.

Another factor that should help is that the team has been together from the start of training camp. Last year, players were in and out all season.

They are looking to improve on a woeful 2-12-3 away record and to sharpen their defence, especially late in games and more especially on set piece plays.

The Impact used a 10-4-3 home record to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot until late in their inaugural MLS campaign.

Arnaud said the new team got behind the eight ball early last season with a 1-5-2 record while playing six of its first eight games on the road. Their schedule is more balanced this season, despite starting with road games Saturday in Seattle and a week later in Portland.

"We didn't start out well on the road and maybe that kind of beat up our confidence a bit," said Arnaud. "We were very good at home.

"But now we have a chance to go on the road to two of the toughest places in the league right from the start of the season, to make a statement about how we want to be on the road. It will be a great test for us."

The Impact allowed the fifth most goals in the league last season with 51 and tied with Toronto for the most conceded in the final 15 minutes of games with 16. …

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