In just a few months, the Montreal Impact has signed almost as many Italian players as have previously played during the entire history of Major League Soccer.
Marco Di Vaio is the latest to sign up with the MLS expansion franchise. He will be formally introduced at a press conference Monday, and upon the opening of the North American transfer window June 27 will join fellow Italians Bernardo Corradi and Matteo Ferrari, and Serie A veterans Nelson Rivas and Felipe Martins, on the Impact roster as its first Designated Player.
“The addition of this experienced player will help the club move forward,” said sporting director Nick De Santis in a press release announcing the signing. “His professionalism and his character will help the club grow. He was the catalyst behind Bologna’s success over the last four seasons, helping the club stay in Serie A.”
Di Vaio comes to MLS from Bologna following stints with 10 clubs in Italy, Spain, and France. The native of Rome has scored 142 goals in 342 Serie A matches, and hit 65 goals for Bologna during the past four seasons. In 14 appearances for Italy he scored two goals.
Though its net has been cast wide enough to attract players from dozens of countries since it started up in 1996, MLS has usually missed out with Italian players. Former international midfielder Roberto Donadoni and defender Nicola Caricola made the journey to play with the MetroStars during that inaugural year. Giuseppe Galderisi and Walter Zenga both played in New England. (Galderisi also had a short stint in Tampa Bay.) Young goalie Paolo Tornaghi joined the Chicago Fire this spring.
Many glittering Italian names have been linked to New York and a few other MLS cities but no others have come aboard. Legendary AC Milan and Italy defender Alessandro Costacurta and his wife Martina visited the MetroStars a decade ago but declined a contract offer.
A cyberblurb last week proclaimed the imminent signing of Alessandro Nesta to play for the Red Bulls; instead, the team traded for Chivas USA defender Heath Pearce.
And there will be the inevitable age concerns about Di Vaio, who turns 36 a few weeks after the transfer window opens.
U.S. international Michael Bradley, who started his career as a teenager with the MetroStars and last year signed to play in Serie A with Chievo, acknowledges that for the top Italian players, MLS is probably the last stop in their playing careers. Yet the league is also drawing notice from younger prospects; of the other Impact imports, only Corradi is older than 32.
“There’s an interest in how the game has grown in our country and how the league is developing,” says Bradley. “Especially guys on the older end are showing a real interest in going to play in MLS and experiencing what that’s all about.”
The natural connection to Montreal is through its owner, Joey Saputo, and De Santis, who played one season in Italy, but there’s more than heritage at work despite talk that another international, Alessandro del Piero, might also be bound for New York or Montreal.
Big names will certainly increase the club’s stature yet Felipe (who has played every minute of Montreal’s first 12 games), Corradi and Ferrari have seen regular time for Montreal as role players. Di Vaio played with Ferrari at Parma and with Corradi for Spanish club Valencia.
“We know he will bring a great element of attacking presence to our team,” said Impact head coach Jesse Marsch. “His nose for attacking plays and ability to score goals will make us a better team. We all look forward to him joining the group.”