Alessandro Nesta to make Impact debut against Lyon
Alessandro Nesta is set to make his debut with the Montreal Impact.
The former AC Milan defender and Italian national team stalwart is to play at least 45 minutes of an exhibition game Tuesday night against seven-time French League champion Lyon at Saputo Stadium.
He will be joined by defenders Matteo Ferrari and Nelson Rivas and forward Andrew Wenger, who are to return from injuries to give the Major League Soccer club close to a full lineup for the first time in two months.
"It gives us a chance to give them some minutes in a real game setting," said Impact coach Jesse Marsch. "So the timing of this game is quite good.
"We'll do it in a smart way. We know that we have a real game coming up."
They hope to have all four players ready for a Major League Soccer match on Saturday against the visiting New York Red Bulls. Ferrari and Rivas are likely to be limited to 20 or 30 minutes against Lyon.
The French Cup champion, whose official name is Olympique Lyonnais, will use the match as a tuneup for the Champions Trophy match Saturday in New York against French Ligue-1 winner Montpellier.
The Lyon squad is led by national team captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, gifted midfielder Yoann Gourcuff and Swedish international Kim Kallstrom. They held a wet, one-hour workout in a thunderstorm before a sparse crowd Monday evening.
Coach Remi Garde said he knows little about the Impact other that what he was told by old friend Patrice Ferri, who played for Montreal in the 1990s.
"Actually, I just know there are some famous Italian players who signed with this club," said Garde.
That includes Nesta, a four-time defender of the year in Italy's Serie-A who is to become a key player in Montreal's central defence along with fellow Italian Ferrari.
They also have striker Marco Di Vaio, the former Bologna star who is seeking his first goal after seven MLS games.
Marsch has been using only one forward of late, but with Wenger back, he will team the first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft with Di Vaio for half the game to see how it works.
"I know everyone wants to see Marco get his first goal, and maybe he scores and gets himself on a roll," said Marsch. "This game can serve many purposes."
The Colombian Rivas also played in Italy.
Montreal (7-13-3) has been the worst defensive club in MLS with 42 goals allowed, but they hope that will change with Nesta.
"I feel good," said 36-year-old Nesta. "I've only worked for two weeks.
"To play in MLS I had to change my mentality because it's very different, but when you go on the field, it's soccer. In Italy, the USA, Canada, everywhere."
Against Lyon, he will face former AC Milan teammate Gourcuff.
The Lyon squad is coming off a disappointing 2011-12 season in which it dropped to fourth place, it's worst season in a decade. That put them out of Champions League play for the coming season, although they will participate in the Europa League.
They are also living with the threat of losing some top players in the transfer market. Team president Jean-Michel Aulas has said he will listen to offers.
Despite a reported $25-million price tag, Lloris has been courted by London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, while Brazilian midfielder Michel Bastos told reporters he wouldn't mind leaving after he was among players criticized by Aulas after the season.
There is a chance the roster will be quite different when the transfer window closes ahead of their first league match Aug. 11 at Rennes.
"Of course I'm concerned," said Garde. "It's always a special period we're living in, but I'm ready for that."
He said the club, considered the richest in France behind Paris St. Germain and Lille, has always been able to replace players who leave.
Battling PSG will be tougher this season as the Qatari-owned Paris side has spent 100 million euros (C$123 million) on three players thus far — Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Levezzi.
For now, Lyon will face the Impact, and both sides will have a chance to give young players some minutes.
The Impact have had a busy schedule since their nearly three-week break in late May and early June, playing two games per week, but the pace will slow after this week.
It was suggested they didn't really need an international friendly thrown into an already hectic schedule, but no one is complaining.
"It's been on the schedule for months," said defender Hassoun Camara, the Impact's lone French player. "It's up to us to make it a positive, to bring back players who had injuries.
"It will help them get ready to play New York."
Many MLS squads play exhibitions against European clubs. Marsch recalls playing against Nesta and AC Milan when he was a player with the Chicago Fire.
"Any time you have these summer friendlies, the teams aren't quite fit, but you find out quickly the talent level on the field is so good that if you're not disciplined and organized, they can make you look bad real quick," said Marsch.
"So certainly we have to be organized and disciplined, especially in the beginning of the game, so that as the game goes on our fitness will start to pay off a bit."