Impact inaugural MLS season a success | Soccer | CBC Sports

MLSImpact inaugural MLS season a success

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2012 | 04:05 PM

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Midfielder Patrice Bernier's contributions to the Montreal Impact this season can be measured in terms of goals and assists, but he's also about where his heart is. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) Midfielder Patrice Bernier's contributions to the Montreal Impact this season can be measured in terms of goals and assists, but he's also about where his heart is. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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They're not going to make the playoffs. They're not going to win more than they lose. They're not selling out as often as they'd like. Yet Major League Soccer's first season in Montreal has been a success.
They're not going to make the playoffs. They're not going to win more than they lose. They're not selling out as often as they'd like.

Yet Major League Soccer's first season in Montreal has been a success.

The Impact has lived up to its name. It has let it be known it is not just another new franchise. In Quebec they do things differently, whether it's the daycare for their children, the language they speak or the way the soccer team is run. The Impact will fall short of their coach's expectation but they have been built to compete.

Montrealers don't impress easily. They want to see some positive action before they make a financial and emotional commitment. Don't be fooled by the huge numbers who flocked to the Olympic Stadium in the early days to see Beckham and company. Selling the Impact to a wider Montreal audience than the hardcore who were with them in the days of second tier soccer has been tough.

Judging by some of the locals, the club is still struggling to raise its profile. I have been fortunate to cover several Impact home games in its inaugural year, but awareness remains a problem - even among those who should know better. From a downtown hotel, the vast majority of cab drivers have no clue when I ask them to take me to Stade Saputo. I have learned the follow-up with: "It's next to the Big-O on Sherbrooke." Only then does the penny drop and the meter starts running.

Season-ticket sales disappointing

Season-ticket sales have been disappointing. Compared to their Canadian rivals in Toronto and Vancouver, the Impact's first season in MLS was not generally viewed as a must-see event. Once the delayed move to the upgraded Stade Saputo was finally made in mid-June there were worrying rows of unoccupied blue seats on view.

Slowly but surely the empty seats have disappeared. The acquisition of high profile Italians such as Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta have helped. A strong home record, sadly not reflected on the road, has also boosted general attendance levels. Finally, last weekend, on a wet and windy day, the Impact sold every one of their 20,521 seats for the visit of Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City.

The inclement weather convinced some to stay away but the gospel is beginning to spread. Unfortunately the entertainment was largely lacking in a tactical stalemate which all but extinguished Montreal's last hope of a post-season berth in Year 1. A solitary point from the last nine has made the equation all but mathematically impossible.

But 2012 adds up to significantly more than a damp squib. The last expansion team to win 12 games in its first year was Seattle and we know how that turned out. Montreal matched that number a month ago when many pundits, including this one, thought the Impact would struggle to get into double digits in the 'W' column.

Bernier returns to his roots

It has been made possible by a team of willing workers. Patrice Bernier returned to his roots after a decade in Europe. His contribution can be measured in terms of goals and assists but it is also about where his heart is. His tireless effort forced Canadian national coach Stephen Hart to recall him to the international scene as Canada grapples with another fretful cycle of World Cup qualifying.

Felipe is one of the finds of the season. The little Brazilian playmaker didn't regard MLS as a step down from the Swiss League but rather another part of the learning process for a young professional. His attitude, combined with his natural talent and eye for goal, has made him an Impact fan favourite.

Davy Arnaud is not getting any younger. Having spent his entire career in Kansas City and with a state of the art new stadium in which to play, he was probably in no hurry to leave. Whatever his private thoughts about the trade to an expansion team in a foreign country, Arnaud has led Montreal with passion and pride. Watching him thump the turf in frustration after narrowly failing to score against his old team on Saturday told me everything I needed to know about his drive and determination.

Jesse Marsch is genuinely disappointed the playoff dream is over. He is a rookie head coach who, from time to time, has made rookie mistakes but who has, by and large, enhanced his resume during his first year in charge. After a predictably uncertain start, Marsch has put together a roster which has genuine talent and a certain degree of depth.

Soon the question will be whether he has done enough to keep his job. Rumours of his early demise have been swirling for months, but I think Marsch, who has never been any less than a gentleman in my company, has certainly given the owners something to think about.

It was always going to be different in Montreal. Thus we should not be in the least surprised the Impact has been anything but a "typical" expansion franchise. Bonne chance!

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