Chivas USA have a midweek game in league play, when they host the Montreal Impact (7:30 pm, Prime Ticket). It will be the first competitive match between the clubs with Montreal's arrival into MLS this season, and there will be many talking points coming into the game. In order to get a sense of how things are going down in Montreal at the moment, I spoke with Sofiane Benzaza, who is Managing Editor of SB Nation's Montreal Impact blog Mount Royal Soccer. Thanks to Sofiane for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Mount Royal Soccer
1. It is the first season for the Montreal Impact in MLS. How is the season going so far, and what do you think is the overall goal of the team in 2012?
The season has had its ups and downs with a lot of uncertainty and unknowns as the team was being built from scratch. The pre-season tournament in Orlando, Florida gave some hope for a better team than expected. Throughout the season, there were a few frustrating losses as the team was playing well for an expansion team but results did not go their way. Wins against the Timbers, Sporting KC and most recently the Sounders has put the team on the MLS map again and confirms the positive evolution of the soccer played.
The goal of the team is to make the playoffs. To make it more general, Jesse Marsch (Head Coach), Joey Saputo (Owner and President) and Nick De Santis (Sporting Director) have all insisted on the fact that the organisation will not apply on themselves the expansion team tag and excuses. Putting pressure on themselves and on the club has only helped the mentality around the squad and it shows. Playoffs are the target and the Impact have a chance to make it.
2. Former Chivas players Jesse Marsch, Justin Braun, and Zarek Valentin are now part of the Impact organization, Marsch of course as coach and Braun and Valentin as players. How do you think the three have performed this season, and in particular what do you think of the play of Braun and Valentin?
Jesse Marsch is a very good communicator with the media and the fans. He is well-spoken and knows what he wants to say and not to say while giving you enough information but not too much. He is sometimes mysterious and not detailed enough with some cliches but he conveys his passion for the game, for the team and for coaching. He is intense on the sidelines and does not mind speaking his mind to referees, the opponents’ coach and players alike.
Justin Braun has been a hard working player and a team player but a disappointment performance-wise. Many observers (media and fans) have been very disappointed by his technical weakness for what he is trying to do. I understand where he came from in his soccer career but his strengths are still a strong physical presence, high pressure and 3 lungs. His ball control is lacking for what he tries to do but he compensates with a strong work ethic. With Bernardo Corradi coming in, he has gone down in the pecking order of strikers and with Marco Di Vaio coming in and Andrew Wenger, he will find it hard to find playing time.
Zarek Valentin has been good and strong as a right back for the team and should be the starter at that position for a while. He has been defensively sound with some decent offensive support but that part of his game still needs to be worked on. For an expansion team, it’s hard to establish an oiled offensive machine with full backs coming in but Zarek has done very well. His salary cap is big for a young Generation Adidas player but I still don’t understand why Chivas USA did not want to keep him. Himself and Andrew Wenger seem to continue their friendship as they are roommates and Zarek is a social media butterfly, engaging the fans in a positive way.
3. It seems in the early going as a club the Impact are looking to land big-name Europeans. They've signed a couple already, but with most MLS clubs moving away from the strategy of signing older European players, do you think this is a shrewd strategy by the Impact or might they regret it in a year or two?
It’s an excellent question. In a perfect world, you would go the route of younger DPs hence why a few teams take the South American route. But in the case of the Montreal Impact, as much as it’s a Canadian, Quebec, Montreal team, it has a strong Italian roots (owner and sporting director) and many of their contacts have been in Europe and Italy.
Bernardo Corradi, Nelson Rivas, Matteo Ferrari and Felipe Martins have been more than a satisfaction. Add to that local boy Patrice Bernier, who started his professional career with the Montreal Impact before going to Europe. The older players are much younger in athletic age and capacity to play at the highest level and Felipe Martins, who took over the offensive playmaking role for the team, is only 21 years old.
The biggest risk would be Marco Di Vaio who at 35 is closer to retirement but his profile fits what any team should look for: team player, intelligent, simple and humble. His value as a player is important but his value as a person also. This concept has drive the club`s selection of players from the 30th player on the roster to the Designated Player.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for Wednesday's match?
Montreal Impact win by a score of 2-1
Check out my answers to Sofiane's questions over at Mount Royal Soccer!
What do you think? Leave a comment below!