Home MLS Montreal Impact The 401 split: Impact gets its DP, while TFC fans wait and wait and wait…

The 401 split: Impact gets its DP, while TFC fans wait and wait and wait…

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The Impact didn’t time the announcement of the club’s capture of Argentine Designated Player Hernan Bernardello to cause as much angst as possible for its rival down the 401. It just feels that way.

On the same Tuesday that the Washington Post reported that Uruguayan star Diego Forlan wasn’t interested in coming to Toronto FC, the Impact confirmed that Bernardello had come to terms on a DP contract. Bernardello played 68 matches for Almeria in Spain’s top flight and another 32 with the club in the Spanish second division. He has one Argentine senior cap.

His numbers, one goal and eight assist in 68 Spanish top-flight matches, don’t suggest Bernardello is a goal machine or a goal-making machine, but a steadying midfield influence that will help strengthen the squad as it prepares to embark on a tough split of MLS matches and its CONCACAF Champions League commitments.

At the same time Bernardello was signed, Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen was telling his reporters that his team is diligently looking for reinforcements, that there are primary and secondary targets. But, more and more, the reign of Kevin Payne as general manager is reminding us of the Mo Johnston years — a lot of scouting trips and promises of new players, but few of those new players to match.

That’s not to blame Payne for the Forlan mess. The sexy DP is a key part of the strategy of Maple Leaf Sports and President Tim Leiweke, who is quickly finding that selling star players on the notion of coming to a last-place team in Canada isn’t quite as easy as selling them on the rock-star lifestyle of Los Angeles. Let’s face it, Cherry Beach ain’t the Santa Monica Pier.

Hernan Bernardello

Meanwhile, Montreal is in the midst of a five-game winless run, but is still sitting fairly pretty in the playoff standings — and, at the very least, its front office sends the message that it is active and effective.

“We are very pleased to have finalized the acquisition of a player who has played at the highest levels,” said Impact sporting director Nick De Santis in a release issued by the club. “He fits in well with the identity of the club and we believe he will play an important role for us moving forward. Hernan has consistently played between 25 and 30 games a season over his career. He is a player with great quality in midfield that covers a lot of ground, all while displaying great technical skills and great ability to relaunch attacks. He plays the game with a lot of passion and emotions.”

TFC’s new regime of Leiweke, Payne and Nelsen have a mountain to climb in terms of signings. First is that this team is nowhere close to the playoff race, let alone a playoff spot. It can’t sell any sort of DP-quality player on the chance of quick glory. No matter what Nelsen says about TFC still having a shot at the playoffs, it’s clear that this will be the seventh straight season without a postseason. So, why would a star player come to Toronto in July, halfway through yet another lost campaign? The only lure would be money: So, TFC would likely be forced to overpay for a player who has no other motivating factor to come to the club at this point in time.

Payne was able to grab Matias Laba with a young-DP discount, and that was good for the club, even though his effect on matches has been grossly overstated by many supporters. But you can hardly blame them; any shred of hope in Toronto is overstated, because a base of loyal fans is so often left disappointed and heartbroken. But outside of Laba, TFC’s front-office performance in 2013 could be termed as “the ones that got away.”

As well, TFC’s previous managers and coaches burned a lot of bridges: Players accused them of offering and/or promising contracts, then reneging on those deals. They turned a contract battle with a former hometown star, Dwayne De Rosario, into a media circus. And while those issues weren’t created by the new front office, Payne and Leiweke suffer the consequences.

The bad deals and broken promises have also soured many other MLS teams; remember that, because MLS signs players centrally, a TFC negotiation gone wrong reflects poorly on the entire league. And other GMs know that.

Leiweke and Payne inherited a team that is very much on an island, floating in the waters of the previous six years of ill will and broken promises. It will be up to them to build the bridges. Until then, they may be forced to watch rivals get the nice things.

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