Home MLS Montreal Impact Impact brain trust reflects on successes and mistakes in 2012 season

Impact brain trust reflects on successes and mistakes in 2012 season

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The Montreal Impact’s upper management team, President Joey Saputo, VP Richard Legendre and Technical Director Nick De Santis, met with the media this morning to conduct the team’s first MLS post-mortem and all involved pronounced the patient alive and generally healthy but in need of some fine tuning to thrive in its second season. An upcoming overseas trip could serve as a possible prescription.

“The high point that I’m going to remember from this season is that we reached our objective for ticket sales with an average attendance of almost 23,000 spectators per game, good for third in the league,” said Saputo. “We played four of our last six games to full houses and the average attendance averaged 19,656 during those six games. We had two record crowds of over 58,000 and 60,000 at Olympic Stadium.

“The extraordinary atmosphere at our games is thanks to the exceptional support we get from our fans and has made us a very difficult team to play against at home.”

He then identified a number of things that he did not want to see repeated in the team’s second season.

“We do not want to be close to the playoffs, we want to be in the playoffs. We want to reach our season-ticket subscription objective. We do not want to experience a dip in attendance like we had in our first game at Saputo Stadium. We do not want to leave points on the pitch by allowing so many late-game goals,” he said

Switching back to accentuating the positive, Saputo then announced that, barring unforeseen circumstances and trade offers that could not be refused, the core of the team will be returning next season, specifically mentioning th9s season’s MVP Patrice Bernier (later announced as the team’s most active player in terms of community involvement), captain Davy Arnaud, Designated Player Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferarri, Nelson Rivas, Felipe, Troy Perkins and Andrew Wenger.

“We’re also going to analyze the situation with our coaching staff,” he continued. “And we’re going to evaluate all the coaches in the organization, from the Academy and student-athlete program all the way up to our MLS coaching staff.”

Joey Saputo, left, and Nick De Santis PHOTO: MIKE WYMAN

Closing his prepared remarks with a statement on team unity that addressed recently published whispers about the Impact dressing room being a less than harmonious place, Saputo said that he has heard the rumours about a divided team and refuted them, declaring, “There are no divisions in the dressing room. There are always differences of opinion, especially in the heat of the moment, but all the players respect both the team and each other.”

The first question dealt with the team’s financial bottom line, with Saputo saying that the team did not make a profit this past season despite having forecast a small amount of black ink.

“There were a lot of surprises that came up in the course of the season and we had to readjust ourselves but that’s not going to change our focus or the way we do things,” he said. “I think it’s going to be important for us to continue to put in place what we decided to do. We’re going to make certain adjustments along the way like we did this past summer.”

Queried about the season ticket numbers and this hopes for his team’s second MLS Campaign, VP Legendre said, “We had 8,000 season ticket holders this year and our objective for next year is 10,000. Our renewal rate is 85 per cent, one of the highest in the league. We are in the process of renewing the contracts right now and it’s going well. Our cancellation rate is less than five per cent, so that’s encouraging too. People are telling us that they liked this year’s team and want to know who is coming back. Hearing the nine names that Joey mentioned earlier is probably going to be very well-received by the fans. They like the team, they like the stadium and they recognize that it is a superior product compared to previous seasons.”

Asked whether any of this season’s players have been informed that they do not fit into the team’s plans going forward, De Santis indicated that, while no final decisions have been imparted to players yet, discussions have taken place since the end of the schedule and they will continue in the next few days.

He did indicate that players who will not be returning will not be traveling to Europe next week with the team when it flies to Italy on Monday to train fort wo weeks and take on Serie A sides Fiorentino and Bologna.

Asked to evaluate his head coach’s performance, De Santis offered that he was satisfied with Jesse Marsch’s efforts but noted that improvement was desired when it came to results on the pitch.

“Like it was for us, it was Jesse’s first year head coaching in MLS so he had a lot to manage. I think in general he did a good job because at the end we had a good product. Certainly, we’re not satisfied with a seventh-place finish. We lost some points and we think we should have done better. Now it’s up to us to figure out how to get those points. We won 10 games at home and hope to repeat that next year and we have to do better on the road,” he said before moving on to address the supposedly difficult team dynamics.

“He’s handled himself very well. He and his staff have maintained a group that, I can assure you, has been a very good group inside the dressing room as well. In the most difficult times it was a group that stuck together and it’s been like that for the whole season. Like Joey said, there have been rumours of bickering and whatnot. That’s only normal but in the end we have enough professionals and good personalities on the team that it’s maintained its positivity during the entire season.”

Identifying the drafting of Brian Ching as an experiment that, with the benefit of hindsight, might have been ill-advised, De Santis also qualified the choice of goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (later traded to Portland) as one that turned out to be less than ideal as well.

“If we talk about disappointments, it was a big one. In the final analysis, I think in pro sports, you’re going to make mistakes and it is a matter of fixing them. We may have waited a little too long to do that with Ricketts but I’m glad that we found a solution. With Perkins everyone has noticed a big difference both on the level of team confidence and in terms of professionalism. He has a lot of qualities, he’s a true professional. He’s helped our team, he’s calmed down our team and he’s given security and confidence to our players.”

Both he and Saputo see the trip to Italy as a step forward for the both team and the league, although it did take a bit of persuasion to get the team’s top man to OK the venture.

“I think we need to continue on training, at least until November 15th just because being off for eight weeks in just too long for the players and we felt continuing in Montreal just coming to training every day, it’s only normal that the motivation of the players wasn’t going to be at its highest level. We were lucky enough to convince Joey of (the importance) of this trip and I think it’s going to be great for the players and for the club as well.

“There’s an importance for us to gain credibility all around the world — and I think we’ve done so — and for the players to play two games at a very high level and to continue to build relationships. We’ve built relationships with top clubs around the world and now we’re hoping it can become more on the technical side as well. Maybe now we can have discussions with these top clubs about certain players who don’t play all that much there and are loaned to second- or third-division teams. Maybe we can start talking about those loans becoming a reality for North America,” said De Santis.

“It’s another area we haven’t budgeted for,” interjected Saputo to a round of chuckles.”But I think it is important for us and it makes a lot of sense so I said, ‘Why not?’”

Evaluating Arguez
De Santis was asked about whether and how midfielder Bryan Arguez, who saw no playing time in Montreal but rejoined the Impact after being loaned to and performing strongly with Edmonton’s NASL for the bulk of the season, fit into Impact plans going forward. In the short-term he might be advised to pick up an English-Italian dictionary.

“With Bryan it was important that he needed to play games. He has certain qualities and there are things that he needs to keep working on but we are happy that he went to Edmonton,” De Santis replied. “Watching most of their games, he was probably the better player all the time and now we just have to keep evaluating him. His position is one that is very, very delicate, centre-mid.

“You have responsibilities, you need experience,” he continued. “So we just have to keep looking at him in the next few weeks in Italy and see what it looks like. I think, in that position as well, Calum Mallace has done a great job to continue growing in the last few games and he’s another player we have to continue to look at. With Bryan we’re going to keep evaluating him and see what his situation is in the next few months.”

That the trip is taking place at all, that the Impact get to play against two Serie A teams in the middle of their season and that it can cast their lines in the European pond is a development arising from the signing of several Italian front-rank veteran players and the reception that they were afforded by Montreal fans.

“When we’re in Europe we’re going to have the opportunity to meet other players, not just Italian players, but others who are playing in Italy,” said Saputo. “It’s thanks to guys like Ferrari and Nesta and Di Vaio. They have nothing but great things to say about this city, nothing but great things to say about this organization and the fans they play for,” said Saputo. “At the end you take a look at it and you have a player like Alessandro Nesta wearing an Impact jersey. I remember an interview he gave where he said that he’d played all these years in Europe and won all these championships but the last jersey he was going to wear was a Montreal Impact jersey. Just saying it gives me a shiver.

“We said we wanted to be taken seriously as a sports organization in this city. You talk about the Alouettes and you talk about the Canadiens but to be able to talk about the Montreal Impact in the same breath is heartwarming,” Saputo said as the meeting wound down. “We’re a major-league team in a major league city and the fact that we’re able to attract an average of 19,000 or 20,000 people to a game, I think it’s great. More importantly, though I think we’ve delivered what we said we’d deliver, and that was a competitive soccer team, and I think it’s important that we continue to deliver a competitive soccer team and go to the next level now and make the playoffs.”

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