MLS Focus: Newcomers debut under yet another new coach in Montreal

In just its seventh MLS season, the Montreal Impact is on its fifth head coach.

Remi Garde led the club for the first time Sunday at Vancouver, which built up a 2-0 lead and held on to win, 2-1. Four offseason additions were in the starting lineup, though it was holdover Matteo Mancosu who scored the Impact’s goal in the 81st minute.

“We didn’t react well enough after the first goal, and we conceded the second because we were late on the cross,” said Garde, who has coached in England with Aston Villa and at Lyon, with which he started his playing career. “Still we fought to come back, and we finished the game strong, but even if we battled, it wasn’t enough."

Garde was hired to replace Mauro Biello, a longtime club servant that guided the team to playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016 but fell short last year. Biello departed as did several veteran players, including captain Patrice Bernier, a native son who had left Europe when the team joined MLS in 2012.

If stability is the key to success, the Impact has somewhat run counter to that axiom. Montreal has reached the playoffs in one-half of its seasons (three of six) and in 2015 launched a sensational run that reached the Concacaf Champions League finals.

Last year Montreal finished ninth in the Eastern Conference at 11-17-6 (W-L-T) despite scoring 52 goals, which is three more it tallied in 2016 while finishing fifth. Garde engineered a moderate makeover; four newcomers were in the starting 11 against Vancouver and three more made the game-day roster of 18.

Garde started Algerian midfielder Saphir Taider in the middle with third-round draft pick Ken Krolicki. Ex-Crew SC defender Jukka Raitala started in central defense with veteran Victor Cabrera and at right back Garde deployed Michael Petrasso, a Toronto native and Canadian international, age 22, signed by Montreal in January after spending six years in England with Queens Park Rangers.

A day after the game, the Impact signed veteran French defender Rod Fanni to a contract through June 30. Fanni, 36, is one of the first signings by Garde, who said the move had nothing to do with the loss of defender Zakaria Diallo, who is out for at least five months after tearing his Achilles tendon.

The ‘Caps did a decent job subduing Impact talisman Ignacio Piatti, who nevertheless got off four of the Impact’s eight shots. Mancosu scored with his first shot of the game, a sharp finish of a Daniel Lovitz cross, and nearly got an equalizer just a few minutes later on another Lovitz feed he poked just wide of the post.

Mancosu scored just six goals last year, which ranked fourth on the team behind Piatti (17), Anthony-Jackson Hamel (9), and Blerim Dzemaili (7), who did not return from his first MLS season. The 2018 campaign will be Mancosu’s third in MLS and Garde is counting on him for more.

“He was rewarded for his efforts,” said Garde of Mancosu. “Matteo is a very generous player that fights for the team. It’s an attitude I really love. I hope the scoring will continue now that he’s opened his account.”
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