Home MLS Montreal Impact Five years of coaching turmoil reflects poorly on Impact organization

Five years of coaching turmoil reflects poorly on Impact organization


Since 2008, four men have coached the Montreal Impact through the club’s final years of Div. 2 soccer and its 2012 debut in MLS. And Nick De Santis has held the job twice.

Coaching is never a stable job, but outside of Toronto FC, it’s hard to think of a club where the gaffer is on a more precarious perch than in Montreal. And no club wants to be mentioned in the same sentence as Toronto FC.

John Limniatis took this team to the quarters of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2008-2009, but didn’t last to see out the 2009 season. Marc Dos Santos took over and won the USL title in 2009, but a slow start to the 2011 NASL season brought the end to his tenure. De Santis came back as an interim coach, then Jesse Marsch came in for one MLS season.

Marsch and the Impact decided to part ways this weekend, and the hunt is on for the fifth coach since ’08.

Of course, when coaches look to apply for work, they do look at the team’s track record for stability — and the Impact, sadly, doesn’t have one. Whenever coaches have run through rough patches — Limniatis, Dos Santos — they haven’t got the votes of confidence from owner Joey Saputo. Instead, they’ve quickly headed out the door.

But it’s not like the Impact has floundered since 2008. It won a Canadian title, enjoyed a nice run in the CCL, won a USL championship and then posted what was a surprisingly good 42 points in its first MLS campaign. The Impact’s wins-and-losses profile does not fit the kind of club that usually ends up becoming a coach killer (ahem, TFC).

It’s a career-killer for a coach to talk about the reasons he has decided to leave a club, or what led to his dismissal. So, we don’t have a lot of material from the Impact’s former coaches on why the position has always been so fragile.

But we do know other things. We know that Saputo is the most hands-on owner in North American soccer. Not even Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment can claim to have its fingerprints on a club like Saputo has over the Impact. When the Impact went to Italy to look for former Serie A stars, Saputo put on the frequent-flier miles. And while Marco Di Vaio has been a passable Designated Player, the aged backline — dominated by thirtysomething former Serie A players — has been one of the slowest in MLS, and it has been painful to watch Alessandro Nesta burned over and over since coming to the league.

In the final two seasons of Division 2, the front office changed the chemistry of the team, bringing in a series of former French league players, from Kevin Hatchi to Idriss Ech Chergui to Philippe Billy to Anthony Legall. The reward was a team that stuttered out of the gate in 2011 and, according to accounts from NASL sources, had real issues with team chemistry.

But, back to today’s presser. Really, it would be less damaging to the Impact’s image had Marsch simply been fired. But, instead, this “amicable” parting of the ways was publicly attributed to a difference in philosophy between the coach and the upper management (i.e. ownership and technical director Nick De Santis).

So, basically, what the Impact has done is advertised the fact that any new coach better be a yes man. A coach who wants autonomy won’t work out in La Belle Province.

To those who have only followed the Impact’s MLS fortunes, it looks like a coach of a first-year team losing a coach after that inaugural season. But the Impact is a first-year MLS franchise, but not a first-year team; you need to look at how the team has operated for the last five years.

And, it will be impossible for the team to establish itself as a global brand until it gets stability at the coaching position. And judging by how fast the coaches fall in Montreal, it doesn’t seem to be a case of De Santis and Saputo not bringing in the right people. It looks to be case after case of the coach not being allowed the freedom needed to do his job.

With each coaching change, the position looks less and less attractive.

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  1. Sten

    November 9, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    They badly want to be Serie A team. They should first realize they were just a minor league team for their history. Now they are a MLS team. Throwing a bunch of old Euro players together doesn’t win in MLS. MLS players might not be as skilled, but they are fast and athletic. Some poor 36 year old Italian sod is going to get blown by. This isn’t Serie A which I find to be an unwatchable league. It is a young and athletic league. You need young and athletic players balancing out a few older skill players.

    But I still feel they will be the top team in Canada. They have great ambition. And MLS needs more teams with great ambition if it wants to become a world class league.

  2. Ludovick Martin

    November 6, 2012 at 3:25 am

    Great piece Steven, I’ve been following the club for close to 10 years and I’m really unimpressed by how they run things. They want to win now at all cost, sometimes it works but most times it doesn’t. For that they sacrifice a lot, a big number of Quebec players have paid the price for the lack of patience of the Saputo/De Santis duo in the last 8 years.

  3. Dave

    November 5, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    I’ve heard rumour that Joey Saputo isn’t exactly the easiest guy to work for. Marsch (and his predecessors excluding De Santis) probably just wanted some kind of control over his roster, and not to be screamed at by ownership on a daily basis. The real loser here is Evan James… I predict a sighting at a TFC trial, poor guy.

    PS: I agree with cwell in that we’ll probably see an Italian coaching the Impact next season.

  4. cwell

    November 4, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Not to mention linguistic capabilities. It won’t be a surprize if the next Impact coach speaks French and/or Italian.

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