Tonight the Portland Timbers look to secure their first win of the season against the Montreal Impact, a team that just earned 3 points against the Seattle Sounders in Seattle. While that might seem impressive, it really is too early in the season to begin determining whether a team is dominant or simply lucky. In fact, it's too early in the season to really know a team well at all, especially one that the Timbers only played a single time last year.
To help us figure out this squad, I was lucky enough to interview Giovanni Sardo of SB Nation's Montreal Impact site Mount Royal Soccer.
Can you give us a brief run down of the new additions to the team and how they make an impact?
The only major acquisition has been midfielder Andrea Pisanu. He comes on loan from Bologna from Italy's Serie A, which also happens to be Marco Di Vaio's former team. Pisanu is known for his work ethic and great crosses. He should be able to reproduce his chemistry that he had with Di Vaio here in the MLS. So far, it has been paying dividends.
During the preseason, he worked hard to adapt as quickly as possible to his new surroundings and performed well in the tune up games. Against Seattle, he was a constant threat and a thorn in the side of the Sounders' defence.
As the season goes on, he will only get better and that will only cause more migraines for opposing defences.
Montreal seems to have a thing for Italians. Can you give us a reason why and who the important Italians on the team are and what they do for the team?
Our owner, Joey Saputo, is Italian and over the years, he has built himself an impressive network of contacts in Europe, mainly Italy. He's been preparing his team's entrance into the MLS for years. In the years prior to our entry to the MLS, we had exhibition games in Montreal against AC Milan and Fiorentina. The team also made regular offseason trips to Europe to face lower division opponents. All these games were used to plant seeds with the players in Europe and build his reputation.
It has paid off as the list of Montreal Impact Italians includes:
Alessandro Nesta: Perhaps the best defender of our generation. A legendary centre back. World Cup champion. Champions League winner. He is our defensive leader. He controls the defensive line, makes sure that everyone respects their assignments and are never caught out of place. What he lacks in speed (he has lost a step or two with age), he makes up with intelligence. Easily the best defender in the MLS. No one can match his talent, intelligence and leadership.
Matteo Ferrari: Another silky smooth centre back. Although he is not as decorated as Nesta, Ferrari has always been a very useful and supremely talented defender. He has even spent time with the Italian National Team. He is considered a 'journeyman' defender in Europe but, in the MLS, he is easily one of the top 10 defenders in the league along with Nesta, there is no better centre back duo in North America. In fact, as a pairing, I am willing to easily say that many teams in Europe would love to have them both in their starting lineup. Impact fans are truly blessed.
Marco Di Vaio: When Marco signed as Montreal's first ever DP, he had just completed his final season as Bologna's Captain and leading scorer. Always considered one of Italy's best yet more underrated forwards, he left Italy tied for 27th place in the Serie A's all time scoring list with 142 goals in 342 games. After struggling in his first few games in an Impact jersey, he became more and more of threat ending the season with 5 goals and 3 assists in 17 games. This year, with a full offseason of rest and getting used to his new surrounding, expectations are high for the Italian sniper. Anywhere between 15-20 goals are expected from him.
Coming off a win against the Seattle Sounders in Seattle has to be huge, what do you attribute to this win? Are the Impact expected to play a similar style against the Portland Timbers?
The win in Seattle was absolutely tremendous. Not many people gave the Impact a chance. Looks like too many people didn't pay enough attention as to what was going on here in the offseason.
The Impact's game plan, based on short passes, ball possession and movement off the ball were well executed but there are two big factors that came into play:
1. Nesta and Ferrari: Both healthy, ready and rested, they were able to keep Seattle's attack at bay. They controlled their backline beautifully, making sure that GK Troy Perkins could do his job without too much interference.
2. Paolo Pacione: No, he is not a player. He is the team's trainer. Last year, the team's biggest issue was lack of fitness in the final 15 minutes of games, especially on the road. Pacione, hired in the offseason, started drilling this team and whipping them into shape from day one. While the last part of the game against the Sounders was shaky, the Impact bended but did not break. They were able to keep fighting just enough to earn maximum points. As the season goes on, Pacione's work will be more evident and will lead to great results.
2nd year in the league, how are you feeling about the team? Is this going to be a breakout year or is it going to be a sophomore slump?
There is a great feeling, a buzz, surrounding this team. Compared to last season, the Impact will have the pleasure of having GK Troy Perkins, D Nesta & F Di Vaio for a full season. Add in Felipe looking to build off his magical first season, Pisanu from Bologna and the return of Ferrari to partner with Nesta & you've got a team poised to make a serious run at the playoffs and the MLS Cup. Expectations are high in Montreal. It's go big or go home.
The front office wants to win and wants to win NOW. This is also proven by the contract that was given to Coach Marco. It's a 1 year deal with an option. The option only gets activated if the team makes the playoffs.
The pressure is on everyone to succeed but when you look at the experience in that starting XI, you know that pressure will not be an issue.
My prediction is that the Impact will finish no lower that 3rd in the Eastern conference and that they will be playing for the MLS Cup.
Predicted starting line ups? (first and last name please)
Huge thanks to Giovanni Sardo for taking time to answer my questions. Be sure to check out Mount Royal Soccer for all things Montreal Impact.
What do you think of this year's Montreal Impact team?