The season was shaping up to be one to remember for the Montreal Impact after they defeated the New England Revolution 4-2 on Sept. 8, 2013. The Impact were level on points at the top of the Eastern Conference with the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City, having played two fewer matches. Whispers of a Supporters’ Shield or even an MLS Cup berth were starting to echo around the Saputo Stadium and for good measure.
Then the unthinkable happened. This once-mighty ship started to take on water and they found themselves fighting to even make the postseason. Montreal finished the season with one win and one draw in their final eight regular season matches with a minus-7 goal differential to drop into the final Eastern Conference postseason spot. They were dispatched handily 3-0 by the Houston Dynamo in a game which featured three Impact red cards.
Their collapse was enough to cost manager Marco Schallibaum his position, and he was replaced by former Chicago Fire manager Frank Klopas. Klopas will look to bring Montreal back to the postseason as well as back to the CONCACAF Champions League, where they were eliminated in the group stage by fellow MLS side San Jose Earthquakes.
The attack of the Montreal Impact lives and dies through Marco Di Vaio. The former Italian international accounted for 40 percent of the Impact’s goals during the regular season in 2013. This season, they will need to find more scoring options and fast as attacking options Di Vaio and Andres Romero will each miss the first three matches due to the red cards picked up during the playoffs.
A player to watch for will be new signing Santiago Gonzalez; the 21-year-old should see starts in the first three games. Good performances by Gonzalez could cause a good problem for Klopas in having more good players than spots on the field.
The Montreal Impact’s midfield is built upon familiarity as this will be the third season with defensive midfielder Patrice Bernier, winger Justin Mapp and attacking mid Felipe Martins all playing together. They added another solid piece in Argentine designated player Hernan Bernardello, another defensive midfielder, and they saw an improvement in goals as well as a decrease in the amount conceded.
From the makeup of their squad, it looks as though Montreal will play with two holding midfielders in Bernier and Bernardello to try and clog the middle of the field. This could be a very good strategy with the offensive additions around the rest of the Eastern Conference.
2014 will be the Matteo Ferrari show on defense for the Impact after Alessandro Nesta announced his retirement following the 2013 season. Their defense is pretty much intact despite the Nesta retirement with the returns of Nelson Rivas, Jeb Brovsky and Hassoun Camara.
They added rookie Eric Miller in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft; Miller may get an early chance to start as Brovsky could miss a few weeks due to a knee injury. Troy Perkins will return as goalkeeper after posting 14 wins last season.
A player to keep an eye on defensively is 24-year-old Wandrille Lefevre, who has played very solidly in pre-season by most accounts. Lefevre could see himself as the other center-back alongside Ferrari when the new season starts for Montreal.
Montreal Impact will have a difficult time returning to the post-season in 2014. DC United, Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union have improved vastly during the offseason while Montreal has not made much of a change except for losing their best defender and another solid winger in Davy Arnaud. Frank Klopas will have to wait another season before returning to the postseason as Montreal will finish outside of the playoff positions.