The Impact, simply put, are making exactly that.
Now into their second season, most observers wouldn't have been surprised if the Montreal Impact were still finding their feet in Major League Soccer. However, Montreal’s activities in the off-season suggested that the franchise wanted nothing to do with a sophomore jinx and instead was focused on fast-tracking to a playoff appearance.
The team changed leadership, bringing in Swiss coach Marco Schallibaum and hiring veteran Italian defender Alessandro Nesta. Together, he and Marco Di Vaio provide experience for a fairly inexperienced franchise. He is also behind one of the best defenses in the league. The Impact have conceded only five goals in their first six matches and are off to a 4-1-1 start (the four wins exceeded the win total of their Canadian rivals, the 1-2-4 Toronto FC and 2-3-2 Vancouver Whitecaps).
Nesta is completely on board with the Impact's push for a postseason berth. He's hinted that he will probably retire at the end of the season.
“This is probably my last season, I want to be able to win more victories, my teammates very well,” he said. “I believe that we can achieve this goal.”
DI Vaio, however, doesn’t seem to share the same view. He told the Quebec talk show Tout le Monde en Parle:
“I don’t really know,” Di Vaio admitted. “My contract runs out in December, so we’ll see after that, but if I can keep on training every day and help the team, I’d like to carry on.”
Patrice Bernier has been the engine of Montreal’s midfield, and arguably their best performer this season.
“At this stage last year, I’d played the fourth game of the season against New York, and then I stopped playing for a while,” the 33-year-old recalled to the media last month. “Now, I’ve played the fourth game, and my play’s being better recognized.”
A big reason in his surge of form this season lies with the Impact’s formation. In a three-man midfield, the 33 year-old Bernier plays the anchorman role, a deep-lying playmaker that covers the defense while trying to play in the forwards as well. Sporting director Nick De Santis hailed Schillibaum’s decision to play Bernier in that role.
“First and foremost, that position could extend his career, and with his experience and savvy, he sees what’s going on in front of him even from further back,” De Santis said. “The defenders know that they can give him the ball at any time, and the players up top know how he anticipates the play and starts new moves right away.”
It’s still early on in the season, and things could change, as the game against Sporting KC suggested. But for now, Montreal still sits a point off the top of the Eastern Conference standings, and they fully deserve to be where they are.
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