Impact continues to work off an entirely different sort of expansion-team model By Steven Sandor Posted on July 6, 2012 1 0 504 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter AC Milan’s fountain-of-youth lab is world famous. The team’s doctors have been able to extended the career of many of the Rossoneri’s thirtysomething players — and it’s why Milan often fields one of the oldest lineups you’ll see in the professional game, yet the club keeps winning. We will soon see how much AC Milan’s wonder-doctors will do to extend the career of Alessandro Nesta, who at 36 has closed the Milan chapter of his career and is with the Montreal Impact for the next 18 months. Nesta was officially unveiled as an Impact player Friday, in a press conference that was aired live on RDS. But, without a working knowledge of the Italian language, the viewers would have to be happy to admire the legendary central defender in an Impact polo shirt, as he doesn’t speak English or French well enough to communicate to the Canadian media. Sporting director Nick De Santis said Nesta is ready to embrace a very different style of soccer in MLS than he’s been used to in Serie A. “He’s been watching MLS for the last couple of months in Miami, he’s watched us play, he’s watched other teams play. What he can bring to the table, of course, is his experiences. We know what he can bring to the table as well, of understanding and directing traffic in the back. The tactical aspect as well; he’s got a great vision to see everything in front of him, to anticipate, and he’s a player that fits in system because he’s very good with his feet as well.” But what’s interesting is how the Impact is taking the traditional method of building an expansion team, and throwing it out the window. Generally, an expansion club — no matter the sport — gets a few veterans in to help what is a young roster adjust to life in the pros. But youth is the key; the older players are generally sacrificed for young blood, as the front office builds for the future. (And yes, we hear you, the Impact is not an expansion club, it’s an existing club that moved leagues. Still, there was an expansion draft, and so few of the NASL players were retained, it is, for all intents and purposes, a rebooted franchise) Owner Joey Saputo, De Santis and coach Jesse Marsch haven’t gone the normal expansion way. The team’s average age is going up, fast. Whether they are spurred by some poorer-than-expected results, or the fact the attendances at Stade Saputo have been closer to New England Revolution territory than sellouts, the team continues to make splashy signings that would be more apt for a team that is in “win now” mode. Let’s look at the preseason big signings. Italian defender Matteo Ferrari will turn 33 in December. Defender Nelson Rivas is the spring chicken, at 28, but his history of injury troubles add some years. Then, the team inked Bernardo Corradi, 36, who had a promising start but will miss the rest of the season because of an ACL tear suffered in training. Now, the new additions: Striker Marco Di Vaio turns 36 in a few days. Nesta is 36. There are those who might argue that the Impact should be playing the top young players it has on a regular basis and taking its lumps. Should Andrew Wenger be an automatic part of the starting XI, just as Toronto FC rolled out its No. 1 draft pick, Maurice Edu, as an automatic starter in its expansion season? Can a team actually claim it is building for the future when these players are so advanced in their careers? No. It is clear the Impact’s route isn’t to build slowly from a grassroots of promising young players. Instead the Impact look to build a winning, elite culture early — one that will make Montreal an irresistible destination for players to come here in the future. (Pure editorializing: As if Montreal’s food, culture and joie de vivre weren’t enough) You could make the argument that these former Serie A stars do fit in the expansion-model; that they are playing the roles of veterans who help guide the younger players. But, if that’s the case, they need to lead by example, because we saw today that Nesta isn’t comfortable enough to communicate in either of Canada’s official languages. And, because the players the Impact have brought in share the Serie A bond, it’s clear that this is a combination of marketing and “win now,” not, a case of a club moving slowly toward’s competitiveness. Montreal needs these thirtysomethings to develop that culture, and fast. Because, if the Impact continues to slide down the standings after a promising start, if it continues to give up three goals a game, then we will simply shrug our shoulders, wax poetic about how that’s what you get about signing old Europeans, and then watch the Impact endure what amounts to another expansion season in a year or two from now.