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PREVIEW: Starting over is Impact game plan
by Ridge Mahoney, March 4th, 2014 8:21PM

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TAGS:  mls, montreal impact

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0304Montreal Impact [MLS 2014: Eastern Conference]  Marco Schallibaum paid the price for Montreal's second-half slide that dropped the Impact from the summit to mid-pack, from which it was rudely dispatched by Houston in the wild-card game. Thus did a season of promise end bitterly despite snaring a playoff spot in its second year of MLS existence.

Schallibaum gave way to Frank Klopas, whose long tenure in Chicago had been terminated by Fire management after its playoff push fell just short. Still, Impact owner Joey Saputo has maintained his recent history of changing coaches regularly by hiring a former U.S. international steeped in MLS experience as a player, head coach and technical director.

2013 Montreal Impact
Record: 14-13-7
Finish: 5th in Eastern Conference.
Playoffs: defeated in conference play-in.

The Italian Stallion of MLS, Marco Di Vaio, was third in MLS scorers by netting 20 goals and constantly buzzing back lines from offside, or nearly so, positions. He adjusted well to life in MLS in his first full season, but Schallibaum did not, and the three suspensions he served along with dependence on elderly players drained away the momentum of an impressive start during which Montreal looked more than good enough to reach MLS Cup.

Alessandro Nesta retired as a player and has signed on as a consultant. Davy Arnaud was traded to D.C. United. So far Klopas has done little to upgrade the squad. The major addition is Uruguayan attacker Santiago Gonzalez, 21, whose pro experience is limited to three seasons with a small club in his native country.

Wandrille Lefevre is the likely short-term candidate to take over for Nesta alongside Matteo Ferrari as Adrian Lopez and Nelson Rivas continue their recoveries. Former Red Bull Heath Pearce trained and played for Montreal during its training camp in Florida and if signed would provide experience in MLS as well as abroad. He can play left back, where draft pick Eric Miller is trying to win a starting spot.

Eastern Conference Preview:
Chicago | Columbus | D.C. United | Houston

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? Klopas signed a three-year deal, so apparently Saputo and sporting director Nick de Santis are hoping to build some stability after dumping Jesse Marsch after the 2012 debut season in MLS and changing coaches again two months ago. The Impact’s strong European flavor is a challenge, and Klopas’ background as a player -- he spent several seasons in Greece -- along with managerial experience can be a good fit.

Mindful of the team’s late-season fade in 2013, Klopas has already begun managing minutes. With Di Vaio on the field, the Impact is always capable of scoring, yet Andrew Wenger played a lot in February. (Di Vaio is suspended for the first three games.) Klopas also gave Collen Warner extended time, so presumably Warner can step in to ease the burden on 34-year-old captain Patrice Bernier, who underwent knee surgery in December and was limited to three appearances as a sub during the preseason.

The well-traveled Justin Mapp, 29, delivered a productive 2013 (eight assists) from the right flank. Felipe, 23, is still a bit raw yet one of the league’s most potent young midfielders going forward. Not many right backs deliver highlight-reel goals but that’s just what Hassoun Camara provided more than once last season.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? Much of the team that last year lost six of its last eight games and finished with a minus-10 goal difference on the road is intact.

Klopas failed to reach the playoffs in two of three seasons in Chicago after taking over as head coach from Carlos de los Cobos. Last year he missed out on the second tiebreaker, goals scored, to Montreal.

PROJECTED FINISH: 6th-8th place. There’s been too much improvement by Toronto FC and Philadelphia to feel confident Montreal can finish in the top five unless in-season upgrades are made.



PROJECTED LINEUP: 4-4-2
Goalkeeper:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
1-Troy Perkins (32)/USA (3rd season)

Defenders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
6-Hassoun Camara
(30)/France (3rd season)
55-Wandrille Lefevre (24)/France (2nd season)
13-Matteo Ferrari (34)/Italy (3rd season)
3-Eric Miller (21)/USA (Creighton Univ.)

Midfielders:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
23-Hernan Bernardello
(27)/Argentina (2nd season)
18-Collen Warner (25)/USA (3rd season)
7-Felipe (23)/Brazil (3rd season)
11-Sanna Nyassi (25)/Gambia (3rd season)
21-Justin Mapp (29)/USA (3rd season)

Forwards:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
9-Marco Di Vaio
(37)/Italy (3rd season)

First off the bench:
NO. PLAYER (AGE)/COUNTRY
8-Patrice Bernier (34)/Canada (3rd season)
29-Santiago Gonzalez (21)/Uruguay (Sud America)
15-Andres Romero (24)/Argentina (2nd season)
33-Andrew Wenger (23)USA (3rd season)
Montreal Impact: complete roster.

Note:
returning players in bold.

MARCH SCHEDULE:
March 8: at FC Dallas, 8:30 pm ET
March 15: at Houston, 8:30 pm ET
March 22: Seattle, 4 pm ET
March 29: at Philadelphia, 4 pm ET
Montreal Impact: complete schedule.


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