Neagle deal may seem minor, but it’s an indicator of the Impact rethink By Steven Sandor Posted on January 28, 2013 2 0 615 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter On the Richter scale of trades, the Sunday deal that saw the Montreal Impact ship midfielder Lamar Neagle to the Seattle Sounders would barely rate as a tremor. Neagle, who scored twice in 1086 minutes of MLS action last season, was sent back to Seattle, where he scored five times in 2011. He’s also from Washington State, so this is a deal that helps him out, too — allowing him to return to his roots. But, as minor as the Neagle deal will seem on the Canadian soccer landscape, it’s an indicator of how the Impact is remaking itself for MLS season two. The Impact got an international roster slot from Seattle, which it can use in 2013 and 2014. It was already edging up against the limit, so it allows the club a little more roster flexibility. The dump of an American — the kind of hard-working-but-hard-to-remember player that so many MLS teams have in abundance — is a sign of how the Impact will challenge the league status quo. The Impact may or may not make the playoffs, the jury is still out when it comes to the team’s Canadian-player development plan. But, after going with Jesse Marsch — a coach straight out of the U.S. soccer program — in its MLS debut season, the Impact now is doing what it was know for in its Division-2 life. In NASL (and the USL before it), the Impact — and, especially, owner Joey Saputo — was known for going its own way. When USL tried to unite teams under a strong head office, Saputo led the rebellion that saw the reformation of the NASL, with a mantra of allowing team owners to have more say in their fates. Lamar NeagleIn NASL, Saputo led a French revolution, bringing in a number of players from overseas to compete in Division-2, from Richard Pelletier to Kevin Hatchi. And, in its final NASL season, the Impact caused waves when it brought in MLS players on loan deals — transactions that were based on the notion that the Impact would not touch those MLS teams in the expansion draft. Basically, the Impact used its MLS leverage to try and tilt the tables in NASL. Saputo is a flamboyant owner; the club is an extension of his personality. Think of the Dallas Mavericks and Mark Cuban, Chelsea and Roman Abramovich or the Atlanta Braves in the height of Ted Turner’s popularity. And, after a year of playing the U.S.-soccer development game, it’s clear that Saputo is returning the Impact to its ways that polarized people in Div.-2. He was there, front and centre, at the draft table in Indianapolis. A Swiss coach with no MLS experience has been hired. The roster has been transformed — a process that began halfway through Marsch’s single season — depending more and more on European veterans. The Impact is showing that Montreal doesn’t want, or necessarily need, a branch plant of the centrally controlled MLS brand. And, as time goes on, we’ll see that this will be the most strikingly separate club (yes, I’m including Chivas in that observation) in a league that bases its growth on homogeny of its franchises. For a league that boasted last week that its new partnership with USL would help AMERICAN soccer, that it was a leap forward for the AMERICAN game, and regularly referred to its one-country approach through that announcement, the Impact will produce an interesting thorn in the side.’ It is becoming more and more clear that Canada and MLS have a marriage of convenience. Canadians, save for the CFL, have a history of only supporting pro leagues if they also include American clubs. For the pro game to grow here, we need to know we are competing with the likes of Los Angeles and New York, an interesting part of our psyche that we can only hope the people who wrong the national division-2 study have taken into account. The MLS, in return, picked up three dedicated cities and Canadian TV numbers that, per capita, far outstrip American MLS viewership. So, knowing that, Canadian fans may just sit back and enjoy the schadenfreude when they see how the Impact is reforming itself into the strong-willed do-it-our-way team we know from its Div.-2 days. There’s no doubt the MLS rhetoric about the need to help Canadian soccer develop has died. Since the league reduced the domestic-player quota for the Canadian teams to three each, the talk about the need to develop both Canadian and American soccer has been replace by the U.S. soccer bluster. So, the Impact may not have many Canadians on their team, but fans north of the border can sit back and snicker that the working-class Americans that are so common in this league will also find it tough in Montreal.