The first priority for the Montreal Impact as they get ready to enter Major League Soccer in 2012 is hiring a head coach.
Management of the newest MLS team told a news conference Monday the number of possible candidates is down to three.
The Impact are slated to join Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps as the third Canadian-based franchise in the 19-team MLS next spring.
League officials have told the Montreal club they are ahead of the game in terms of preparation. And senior team officials expect things will move more quickly once a coach is hired.
"Once we get that head coach, a lot of things are going to start falling into place," Nick De Santis, the Impact's sporting director and interim head coach, told a news conference Monday.
De Santis said the club would like someone with North American coaching experience. The club looked at 20 different candidates before coming up with the short list.
"With the candidates we've narrowed it down to . . . we are comfortable and confident that all three can bring some very good and important elements and philosophies to the club," De Santis said.
He said the future staff will be built around the new coach, so the position is integral and must be filled as soon as possible.
In addition, the club is scouting high and low for talent.
De Santis said the team hopes to identify three or four players it considers difference-makers for the inaugural roster. On the wish list: a high-end defender, a creative midfielder, a striker as well as perhaps a top-tier goaltender.
They'll be scouring for talent in many parts of the world including South America, Italy, Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe.
The club's management team is already planning extensive scouting missions in advance of a 10-round expansion draft involving the league's existing 18 franchises.
"We're at a bit of an advantage over last year's expansion draft because there were two teams," Matt Jordan, director of soccer operations, said of the process.
"We think we can count on three starters and probably two to three role players and hopefully we'd gamble on a few others that would maybe work out, maybe they won't." The Impact must also prepare for the MLS Superdraft in January, where the club holds the first pick overall in the college portion and select first in each of the six rounds.
Jordan and De Santis expect to spend much of the fall on the road on scouting missions after having spent weeks watching as much MLS soccer as they can. They're looking for certain players: younger or slightly older guys who are having trouble cracking a starting lineup, or older players who can still perform at a high level.
"Are we in the position to get the best players in the world?" De Santis said. "The answer is no.
"So it's important for us to do our homework and find players who can make a difference."
De Santis has been interim coach since Marc Dos Santos stepped down from the struggling North American Soccer League franchise at the end of June.
Everyone on the current roster is undergoing an evaluation and a combine will be held following the NASL season to determine who stays in 2012. De Santis said he wants the coach to evaluate the current crop.
In preparation for MLS, the club has gone on fact-finding missions to Colorado, as well as to see two new clubs in Portland and Vancouver, said team president Joey Saputo.
"The teams that we've visited have been very open about what has worked and what hasn't worked," said Saputo.
"We took a look at some of the mistakes and the successes and say 'OK, what can we do to take some of the best of the best and eliminate some of the worst of the worst."'
The club's home won't be ready in time though.
Saputo Stadium is slated to undergo renovations to increase its capacity to 20,000 from 13,000 after this season. As the work won't be completed until next summer, the club will play out of the indoor Olympic Stadium during the early stages of 2012.