Toronto FC have had some unforgettable moments in the past six years and the standings haven’t been too kind to the Reds. They finished last season in last place in the Major League Soccer. The Montreal Impact will begin their second season in the league. The ended up in seventh place in the Eastern conference a full nineteen points ahead of TFC but the standings don’t tell the real story. The story of the Impact having a more successful season than TFC begins and ends with identity.
TFC as a club have gotten worse every season since their first. Players have come in and out, coaches have changed and management has as well. The club has no identity. The one part of the club that has some sort of cohesion or reputation is their supporters. The supporters clubs and the fans are what makes the club. That is what they are known for around the league.
Management has never tried to implement one type of strategy, one type of player recruitment or one type of formation. Players have been brought in from all across the globe with no rhyme or reason. The club is in a perpetual state of flux jumping from one strategy to another in terms of play and in terms of what they represent to the city of Toronto.
Then there is the Impact. The Impact, owned by the Saputo family, have decided to take one aspect of the city they play in and use that as marketing tool, player recruitment plan and acceptance. Montreal is home to a large Italian immigrant population. They, who have now been there for longer than three generations, are prevalent in city politics, city business and have a huge influence over provincial doings and the government.
The ownership decided to build the team around Italian speaking players or players who played in the Serie A. Over the first season and this past off-season they have brought in ex-Italian Internationals, internationals who played at clubs in Italy and Swiss born Italian speaking players. Nelson Rivas, Felipe, Marco Di Vaio, Matteo Ferrari, Alessandro Nesta, Denis Iapichino and Andrea Pisanu all wear the colors of the Impact. This attachment to the old country has made it easier for the club to reach out to one of the soccer communities in Montreal. By the way, they can play as well.
The last piece of the puzzle was to bring in a coach that not only could understand the players but also find a style of play to get the best out of the squad. The club brought in the players and now they needed a coach to find a formation for the players to excel. The management brought in Marco Schallibaum a Swiss coach with ties to both the Swiss and Italian leagues. He not only can speak French which can help with the media in Montreal but can also speak Italian.
The Impact came out like a bullet last season but tailed off by the end missing the playoffs. The club decided early on to come up with an identity for the team. They decided to go Italian and forged ahead bringing in Italian players. Some may complain that not enough Canadians or Quebecers are on the team but at least the team has some sort of identity.
TFC on the other hand has no identity. It’s up to new coach Ryan Nelsen to bring in some sort of culture or way of playing and thinking which the club and its’ supporters can latch on to. If he doesn’t it might be a short stint as a coach for the Kiwi.
Identity is very important in shaping how a club is viewed by their league, by their city and by their supporters. Since the beginning the club has not put any effort in building any sort of identity and it is this that has lead to the lean years. It’s okay to lose but at least do it knowing who you are.
Shahab Khan is a Soccer and MLS Columnist with Rant Sports focusing on the Toronto FC
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