(CJAD 800 Soccer Gang of 4 "gangsta" Sofiane Benzaza returns with his views on what's wrong with the team and what's needed to fix.
Be listening to the Impact Saturday evening live from Saputo Stadium after the Als vs Riders on CJAD 800, then catch the Soccer Gang of 4 at Halftime with Abe Hefter, Grant Needham, Gio Sardo and Sofiane.)
IMPACT VS. DC UNITED SATURDAY NIGHT 7PM ON CJAD 800
In the middle of a slump, the Montreal Impact is feeling the heat in a tight race for the MLS playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Managing expectations is a 2012 concept and is not even part of the 2013 vocabulary for the Montreal Impact.
Managing expectations was the expression that I used many times last season, but evidently neither Joey Saputo nor Nick De Santis had it in their vocabulary. Even as an expansion club, making the playoffs was the only objective in 2012 and Jesse Marsch paid the price for failing to do so.
In 2013, the stakes just got higher and Marco Schallibaum was the man assigned to lead the Impact to the promised land: the MLS Playoffs. Or is it the MLS Cup?
At the top of the Eastern Conference for most of the first half of the season, Schallibaum was still conscious that the team had a lot of work to do. It is a good sign when a 2nd-year club is humble about its current position.
But with a record of 1-3-4 since June 29th, the once high-flying Impact is slumping and cannot seem to find a way to get any momentum. Praising his team’s character throughout the season, it seems that the coach's well has dried up and teams have gotten wiser.
Starting the season with a 4-win streak, Montreal fought off its road games demons and seemed to pick up the positives from its 2012 momentum. Not necessarily playing a beautiful brand of soccer, the Impact was winning and putting points in the bank for the hot summer MLS months.
During the months of April and May, Montreal continued to build confidence and find a style. Big wins against Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City were important. Still, the lack of dominance and a specific style was starting to bother fans and observers.
Marco Di Vaio was scoring, giving weight to the club’s choice to make the Serie A striker its focal point off and on the pitch. Still among the top teams in the East, the expectations were still to make the playoffs no matter what.
After winning the Canadian Championship in an historic game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Slump came.
It should not be a surprise to see any club go through a bad streak. No one can expect the Impact to win every game, but warning signs of predictability came back to haunt the team. The 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rapids was the trigger that could start explaining the Slump.
With only 1 win in 7 games, no one is talking of the MLS Supporters’ Shield and the Impact dropped off in the MLS Power Rankings.
Marco Schallibaum never really talked about claiming first spot in the East as a must-have, but winning no matter what is back on the table and only the result matters.
As Schallibaum said himself after a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in the opening game of the Impact’s CONCACAF Champions League campaign: "We got some opportunities, but the important thing is the result."
What happens when the result is not there? The redundant speech about having games in hand is falling flat.
New additions Hernan Bernardello and Adrian Lopez will give a huge boost to the club. The difficult task for the staff and players is to integrate them as fast and as efficiently as possible before times runs out.
The players are still positive and confident in their capabilities as they should be. This team has proven to have more skill and talent than expected. Unfortunately, consistency has vanished since the second half of the season started.
Managing Expectations? I think not. Making the playoffs is the only acceptable outcome.
Guide to Get Out Of The Slump
- No more passengers: Andrea Pisanu and Andres Romero have been somewhat servicable earlier in the season but Nick De Santis should have bolstered the squad by replacing them. If not Romero, Pisanu has not played 1 MLS minute since July and has been more often injured than fit.
- Nesta cannot play 2 games in the same week. It is time to challenge Alessandro Nesta and sit him down for the good of the club and his own. His vision and positionning are still impressive but he looked tired against the Chicago Fire after a good display vs the San Jose Earthquakes
- Fill the Pot Holes: The pot holes are also at Stade Saputo and away. The gap between the midfield line and the back four have been worrisome at best. Too many teams have taken advantage of that duty-free zone and Bernardello will not change that overnight. Some teams have not taken advantage of that and others have, hence the winless streak aka the Slump.
- Where are the outside backs? Justin Mapp and Sanna Nyassi can do so much on their own. Jeb Brovsky and Hassoun Camara need to be unleashed a few times in the game to provide support and options to the midfield. Bernier needs options to distribute the ball and stretch out the opposite team.
Coach Schallibaum still has no contract extension, weeks after discussions with his president were confirmed. If this team does not make the playoffs, Schalli will have to leave town like Marsch did a year ago.
The important thing is the result.