ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 31: Matteo Ferrari of Besiktas J. (Photo by Bulent Kilic/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
The good news is that expectations remain relatively low during the Impact's inaugural year
2011 record (finish): N/A . The Montreal Impact are an expansion team and will enjoy of not having the pressure to do better than the previous year.
Key additions: Davy Arnaud, Donovan Ricketts, Justin Braun, Patrice Bernier, Felipe Martins, Mike Fucito.
Key losses: Can we really consider the loss of Brian Ching as a loss or as an addition? Montreal went for a gamble and lost. Trading back Ching for a guaranteed 2nd round draft pick in 2013 cannot really be called a great deal. But that pick could become a first-round pick if Ching plays 20-plus games.
Another potential loss is not being able to come to terms with Bobby Burling, a central defender. Even though the Montreal Impact are deep in central defense, I am a believer of a deep roster and Soccer Operations (Nick De Santis and Matt Jordan) have done good with the Matteo Ferrari hiring,
Projected starting XI (L to R): Ricketts - Gardner, Ferrari, Wahl, Valentin - Bernier,Felipe, Arnaud, Mapp - Braun - Fucito/Nyassi
Bold prediction: It's an expansion year so no real expectations are out there as per winning in the now. I will still boldly predict a final at "Coupe des Voyageurs" to fight to make it to the CONCACAF Champions League. Yes, Toronto FC, you might lose the semi-finals versus the Montreal Impact. I dont see the Impact being out of the playoff race by May so expect a hard fought season in the image of Patrice Bernier, Davy Arnaud and head coach Jesse Marsch.
Biggest fear: On the pitch, a lack of offense with proven forwards. With Braun, Fucito and Nyassi, the future bodes well but it will be hard to get a lot of goals. It will likely depend on how the midfield operates.
Off the pitch, a media black-out is a real concern. Montreal is really a Major Sports town and with the Montreal Canadiens running the show, there is a fear of not enough media attention to the club. RDS/TSN will have some nationally broadcasted games and TVA Sports will carry the bulk of the Montreal Impact games, which is great news. There is always the risk of the Montrealer/Quebecer short attention span to anything that is not Red, White and Blue but there are enough of soccer fans in the city to follow and support the team. Will their hunger and thirst for Montreal Impact be satisfied via the media?
The Right Fit....
That is what Jesse Marsch said since being handed over the reign of the Impact and he is still saying it. From the SuperDraft with the selection of Andrew Wenger to the Expansion Draft with good veterans players, the Impact have chosen the route of building a team for the future while still trying to compete on the pitch now.
Still in search for a Designated Player, the club has strong veterans to help the team in this historical year for the city and the fans. With a rookie head coach, rookie sporting director and rookie soccer operations manager, a certain uncertainty on the value of the team and its potential performance is present. That is why being an expansion club gives you the flexibility not to have the highest expectations while still thriving to produce high level soccer and building for the future.
Although there has been no DP signing, there have been several interesting players added to the roster. Chief amon them is Matteo Ferrari. The Italian CB convinced the team to sign to a one-year contract with an option after being on trial during the Orlando pre-season tournament. Smart non-DP signings seem to be boding well including local boy Bernier who (if healthy) will contribute a lot to the team.
The Western Conference has been tagged as the Wild Wild West but playing in the Eastern Conference will not be an easy feat. Teams have gotten better since the Impact joined MLS and we hope they can survive the grind of a MLS schedule.