Impact finding a home away from home | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerImpact finding a home away from home

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2013 | 11:02 PM

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Fans of Montreal Impact are enjoying the franchise's 3-0 start to the MLS season. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press) Fans of Montreal Impact are enjoying the franchise's 3-0 start to the MLS season. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

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The Montreal Impact will have to wait until mid-April to play their first game at Stade Saputo, but a 3-0 start has the franchise off to the best record in Major League Soccer.
For a team yet to play at home - they're doing okay.

True - they've played in Montreal, but not at the stadium built for soccer, then upgraded for elevation into Major League Soccer.

Nor will they for almost another month. Players and fans alike will have to wait until mid-April before Stade Saputo - a stone's throw from the Olympic Stadium - hosts its home opener. By then the Montreal Impact will be six games into the 2013 schedule.

So far so good.

Montreal has jumped out of the blocks to kick off its sophomore season boasting the league's only 3-0 start. That record includes successive road wins in Seattle and Portland - two teams with arguably the most vociferous support in MLS.

Factor in Montreal's victory over Canadian rivals Toronto FC and the signs are encouraging, to say the least. You might argue the wins over Portland and Toronto - two of the league's worst performing teams in 2012 - were to be half expected. You might further argue only the woodwork kept the Impact ahead in Seattle.

And you'd be right. Montreal cannot claim to have dominated its opening three games. It has not been head and shoulders above its opponents. But it does have a perfect nine points from its opening three matches. That's not just better than most- it's better than anyone.

Results are all that count in this business - no matter how they are achieved.

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The win against Toronto FC was anything but pretty. In truth it was a scrappy, occasionally heated contest, as one would expect from the Impact's nearest but not so dearest. Neither team could have been content with the quality of the soccer. Ultimately, Montreal found a way to win - the rest is largely irrelevant.

Fast start

Why the fast start to 2013? In a word: experience.

The Impact took their medicine and learned from it. This time last year, Montreal lost four of its first five games, earning just a single point from the initial 15 on offer. It employed a rookie coach and a good number of players new to MLS.

Jesse Marsch was, somewhat unfairly, a dead man walking. A unilingual American coaching a professional team in Montreal was never going to last. Under the circumstances Marsch did a highly creditable job and led the team closer to the playoffs in Year 1 than most thought possible.

Not close enough. The vision was clear. Montreal's hierarchy wanted a European coach of some standing, and linguistic ability, to reflect the club's individuality and ambition. Enter Marco Schallibaum, who ticked most, if not all, of Joey Saputo's boxes.

At a time when it has become increasingly fashionable for MLS teams to appoint recently retired ex-players as head coaches (DC United, New England and Toronto FC spring to mind) Montreal went old school. The Impact were determined to find someone who could command the respect of the players - in a language of their choosing.

Experience on the bench, and on the field. Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta are closer to 40 than 30, but each know their job inside and out. Seven of the starting 11 against TFC were the wrong side of 30 - but all seasoned pros who understand what is required.

Wear and tear

The obvious downside is one of wear and tear. Nesta - the senior citizen of the team who turns 37 this week - lasted barely 10 minutes on the fresh carpet at the Big O. The Italian veteran reads the game superbly, but he won't be getting any quicker during his stay in Montreal.

What will have impressed the demanding coach and the majority of the near 40,000 in attendance was the efficiency with which the Impact reshuffled the back four. The forced introduction of Dennis Iapichino was virtually seamless, and only some sloppy defending in the early minutes of the second half allowed the visitors a rare sight of goal.

In the short term it may pay off. It is far too early to start talking about the playoffs this year but the Impact's early success will have a duel effect. Not only will it breed confidence in the dressing room but it will also instill a greater respect from future opponents.

The Montreal Impact are no cookie-cutter franchise. This is a club with a successful history on the field. It is operated by a soccer knowledgeable staff, which has kept it afloat and faithful to its community for 20 years.

Yet despite its heritage and intentional European influences, this is a club which needs to work on its fan base. Saputo and his team know the only way to attract and expand is to put a decent product on the field. Winning is not optional in Montreal - it is essential to tempt wary patrons to invest in a season ticket.

A perfect start to the season certainly helps. The Impact's winning streak has a long way to go to catch the Miami Heat. But for the time being few can argue Montreal is on fire.

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