Impact look like new team since coaching change

Didier Drogba of the Montreal Impact. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Before this MLS season began, a long-time Montreal Impact season ticket holder got up at a member’s meeting and memorably gave an impassioned speech.

In a similar vein to the character played by James Stewart in Mr. Smith goes to Washington, he went on for nearly six minutes, his voice edging on despair.

The Impact were coming off their worst season ever—a last place finish in 2014—and the man had lots to get off his chest.

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His main issue? How it often seemed so easy for his beloved team to be beaten.

“When I’m going to games and reading the lineups, I go ‘what the heck is going on? We can’t win with that lineup?'" he said, to rousing applause from the other members in the room.

This same fan must have been just as incredulous after the Impact released their starting 11 for Wednesday night’s game in San Jose, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Interim coach Mauro Biello made nine changes to the team that drew the LA Galaxy 0-0 on the weekend, which seemed rather excessive.

Evan Bush, Marco Donadel, Ignacio Piatti, Justin Mapp and Didier Drogba were already sent back to Montreal to rest up for subsequent home games against Eastern Conference rivals. San Jose were in-form and desperate for points; the Impact were going to lose—surely.

And yet, even after San Jose took the lead courtesy of an Eric Alexander giveaway and the Impact were left with 10 men after Ambroise Oyongo was issued a straight red card, the Impact—who were playing with what was essentially their B squad—still managed to find a way back into the game and secure a precious point.

"We had guys who hadn't played together in a while and to go down a goal and then down a man, yet come back and tie this game was a tremendous result," Biello said after the game.

"We came in here with a plan and we are pleased with the point. I believe in this team and all the players that I have. We felt the team we put out there tonight would give us a good chance to get points."

That the Impact have come away from these two games in California with two draws is very unexpected. What was most impressive was how they managed to limit LA and San Jose to so few scoring chances—and only one goal between them—even with defender Laurent Ciman out serving a suspension.

It’s all the more remarkable when you consider where this team was just two weeks ago—on a losing streak, playing without passion, lacking belief.

Biello has only been in charge for three games but the Impact already feel like a very different team.

Speaking to RDS earlier this week, and echoing the sentiment of the aforementioned fan, club president Joey Saputo explained that one of the things he didn’t like about the Impact under Frank Klopas was that they were far too easy to play against, especially away from home.

If the Impact continue to play with the same commitment and organization, then they won’t be an easy team to topple like they used to be.

Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter