MLS ’12 Preview – Montreal Impact

Team: Impact de Montréal

Head Coach: Jesse Marsch

2011 NASL Record: 9-8-11, 35 points, 7th of 8 in League, Missed Playoffs

Twitter Hashtag: #IMFC

Another season, another new team for Major League Soccer. It’s awesome to see new markets be reached by the league. As the fifth new team in four seasons, the Montreal Impact will begin play at MLS First Kick against one of last year’s expansion teams, the Vancouver Whitecaps. The league now has three Canadian rivals, and while none of these teams are expected to challenge for a title, it will be interesting to see how Jesse Marsch’s squad fares in what is arguably a weak conference.

Expansion And SuperDraft: The story of this offseason was the unexpected selection of Brian Ching from Houston. The saga went back and forth, but eventually the expected resolution came as Ching was traded back to the Houston for a SuperDraft pick halfway into training camp. Even with Ching leaving, Montreal did select some players who should play key roles in 2012 and beyond, including Zarek Valentin, Justin Mapp and Sanna Nyassi. In the SuperDraft, Montreal selected the athletic Andrew Wenger from Duke. In preseason, Marsch has indicated that Wenger will probably play a lot of forward. The Dutch Country PA native appears to be a longer-term project, and hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time in the early preseason.

Non-Draft Additions and Losses: I’m going to make a change to the sequence here. A lot of action happened for the Impact after the Expansion Draft. The unavoidable dealing of Ching seemed to be the karmic snapback of the team fleecing Chivas USA right after the Expansion Draft. Montreal traded James Riley to the Goats for Justin Braun and Gerson Mayen, after already taking Valentin from Chivas..

They also grabbed a couple of other good pieces after the draft. Donovan Ricketts came to the squad in a trade from the Galaxy. Davy Arnaud adds a nice experienced midfield presence, added from Sporting Kansas City. In the last week or so, the return of Eddie Johnson to MLS gave Marsch an opportunity to deal. After selecting Johnson in an Allocation Lottery for the player, the Impact proceeded to send him to Seattle for Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle. And in recent weeks, Italian center back Matteo Ferrari is training with the team, and a deal is in the works to make him the club’s first Designated Player.

Coaching And Front Office: Joey Saputo went young to fill his head coaching position with the Impact. He selected former US Men’s National Team assistant Jesse Marsch. We don’t know much about Marsch, but given his rather audacious selection of Ching, it appears he’s not planning to play nice. Fortunately we’ll get a glimpse into the team this weekend, since Major League Soccer is streaming preseason games over the next few days.

Probable Starters: It’s tough to predict the starters for an expansion team, because the makeup is typically a bunch of young rookies and retreads from other teams. It’s not a whole lot different with the Impact. Ricketts seems destined to be the goalkeeper, given his history in the league. The center back pairing seems to be leaning towards Shavar Thomas and Tyson Wahl. The wildcard will be if a deal gets done with Ferrari.  The Italian will likely be a solid addition in central defense should they get him signed. Zarek Valentin and Josh Gardner will likely be the fullbacks.

I’d imagine we’ll see Arnaud as an attacking midfielder when the season starts. Sanna Nyassi will fit in as a winger, with Justin Mapp picking up the other side. Brazilian Felipe Martins seems to be a preseason selection in the midfield, as well as Collen Warner.

At forward, there are a number of options. Montaño seems to be a favorite of Marsch, but Braun and Fucito are also quality options up front.

Best Case Scenario: Even in a weak conference, I think it’s a stretch to think the Impact will finish in a playoff spot. I think in the best case they finish just out of a spot in the playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: Is there really a worst case? It’s the team’s first season, failure seems a reasonable and expected option. Last place in the East would stink, but it’s not the end of the world for a team looking to build.

Prediction: I think the team will finish in last place, but will show signs of pushing on in 2013.

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