The Montreal Impact ended the 2017 season with 5 straight losses, which put an end to any hope of making the playoffs they may have had. It took no time for team president Joey Saputo to announce the dismissal of inexperienced head coach Mauro Biello and his staff. The 2017 season left fans disappointed and with a bad taste in their mouth, but with a new coach and some new players, 2018 looks to tell a different tale.
Off Season Grade: C+
The Montreal Impact have been inconsistent since joining the league in 2012. The signing of Didier Drogba, reaching the finals of CONCACAF Champions league in 2015, and reaching the MLS conference finals against Canadian rival TFC in 2016 highlight the few bright spots the Impact have had in their short tenure in MLS. The one shining moment for the Impact last season might be the re-signing of MLS All-Star Ignatio Piatti.
The offseason kicked off with the signing of new, very experienced, proven head coach and former Ligue 1 manager Remi Garde, followed by the departure of veteran stars and fan favourites including Ambroise Oyongo, Laurent Ciman, Patrice Bernier, Blerim Dzemaili, Hassoun Camara and the young rising star Ballou Tabla who was transferred to Barcelona B. Losing that group of talented players would leave the roster half empty with a group of role players that did not improve last season and leaves the team with a lack of identity. Remi Garde and the front office had to convene quickly and find ways to fill the gaps in the roster with some talent.
Many of the loyal and patient Impact fans had hope that Remi Garde would be able to pull some strings with his experience and connections in Ligue 1. They were wrong. Garde couldn’t pull any signings on his side to replace any talent that had left. He would even came out in front of the media, stating that it was a lot more difficult to convince players to play in MLS due to money and general perception of the league. To no surprise, Joey Saputo went to his reliable plan B and grabbed Saphir Taider from his club Bologna FC in Serie A. Taider is full of potential and seems to be in for the long haul, as he signed a three year contract with IMFC.
Following an uneventful 2018 MLS SuperDraft, the Impact would complete its roster with MLS players that have been role players on previous teams like Raheem Edward and Jukka Raitala. They also brought in Ligue 2 veteran Zakaria Diallo on a free transfer, Canadian international Michael Petrasso and promising 20-year-old midfielder Jeisson Vargas. There are a lot of questions surrounding these signings, as they have potential but are still unproven.
It’s difficult for fans to know what to expect this season. However you can, the team will hope to have professionalism and a winning culture imposed by the new coach. In pre-season, Garde has been preaching fitness and seems to have gotten this young group of players to buy in to his system. Garde is still searching for that diamond in the rough that could help the team make a playoff run. Perhaps Petrasso, Edwards or Vargas could be that guy; however, with the lack of talent, I predict the Impact to finish 7th in the East. It will take time for the team to hit on all cylinders, but I do not expect those same late game losses due to fatigue or mental lapses like last year. The team has gotten younger, which of the goals that Garde wanted to hit this year. The new coach has quite the project ahead of him.
Key Player: Ignatio Piatti
Piatti is the glue that holds the Montreal Impact together. Staying healthy and being more of a vocal leader is key for him this season. Piatti is a reliable goal scorer, and for the Impact to have any success this season they will need him to step up as a veteran, leading by example for the new core that Montreal has brought in this season. I predict that Piatti will be a All-Star once again.
Best Case Scenario: Playoffs
My concern and prediction with the Impact is solely based on the lack of talent with this squad. I am confident that Remi Garde will have the players playing hard and the right way this season. If Michael Petrasso and Raheem Edwards can be key contributors this season, and if Saphir Taider finds a way to score in MLS, the Impact can possibly make a push for the playoffs.
Bold Prediction: Matteo Mancosu finds his old ways and scores 15+
When Mancosu first came to the Montreal Impact in 2016, fans didn’t know what to expect. Mancosu soon took over Didier Drogba’s starting spot as striker. It didn’t take long before Mancosu was a fan favorite leading the Impact to the Eastern Conference Finals, earning himself a big contract. That contract was often questioned during his extremely unproductive 2017 campaign that was filled with lingering injuries. I am confident that Mancosu will be able to find his old ways and be a productive scorer this season with the Impact. He will earn that big time contract this year.