MONTREAL — If there’s been one noticeable trend from the Montreal Impact’s first ten games in its inaugural MLS season, it is that of gradual improvement.
In the beginning, the Impact’s defending was of Toronto FC-like proportions – bad, that is — and the offence, in the best of times, predictable.
With the Impact coming off an almost astonishing 2-0 win on the road to league leaders Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, the Impact now have three consecutive clean sheets. The offence is creating chances too, even a goal every now and then.
The Impact are currently playing their best soccer of the campaign and it’s probably safe to say that this current squad has just about reached the apex of what it’s capable of.
Columbian defender Nelson Rivas did play very well in his first appearance on Saturday — he’ll be a big boost to the Impact back-line — and we would all love to see Patrice Bernier feature a little more, especially considering how well he’s performed in his last two starts, but there really doesn’t seem to be all that much room for further progress.
There was one particular moment in the Amway Canadian Championship match against Toronto on Wednesday which was especially revealing of what the Impact really need in order to raise their game to yet another level.
In the first half, striker Bernardo Corradi received the ball on his chest on the far left hand side of the Toronto half, turned around and blindly volleyed the ball towards the TFC box. There was no one even close to latching on to the pass and it seemed like a rather bizarre decision from the Italian forward, but it was actually an intelligent, instinctive pass, commonly referred to as attacking the “weak side.“
Seeing Corradi with control of the ball in the space that he had found himself in, a high calibre forward would have already understood where he needed to go, would have made the appropriate run, and then would have been able to receive Corradi’s pass and probably get a good scoring opportunity as a result.
The bottom line is that if the Impact are going to become more than just a competitive team and become one that can really go places, they’ll need not only a goal scorer but also someone with the intelligence and ability to lead the attack.
Marco Di Vaio gives you just that and a lot more.
The Rome native announced in a press conference on Friday that he had decided to leave his current club, Bologna, after the end of the Serie A season. He also said that there’s an offer on the table from Montreal, and though Di Vaio did not admit to agreeing to the Impact’s terms, the club is expected to make an official announcement of his signature within the month.
Simone Monari from Bologna’s Repubblica reported on Friday morning that Di Vaio’s contract with the Impact will be similar to the one he’s had with Bologna, around one million Euros a year.
Di Vaio began his career in the prestigious Lazio youth academy and made his debut with the senior team at the mere age of 17 under traditional manager Dino Zoff. Following loan spells at Bari and Verona, Di Vaio was purchased by Salernitana in 1999. Di Vaio led Serie B that season in scoring with 21 goals and helped Salernitana to a second place finish and promotion to Serie A.
In the subsequent year, Di Vaio registered 12 goals in Italy’s top flight but the Campania side wasn’t able to stay up. Di Vaio’s exploits didn’t however go unnoticed and he was signed by Serie A outfit Parma. In his third season with the gialloblu, Di Vaio scored 20 goals in the league, finishing fourth among the scoring leaders and, as a result, was bought by Juventus for a whopping 32 million Euros in the summer of 2002. Di Vaio spent two years at a star studded Juventus side, and was consequently kept mostly on the sidelines.
Di Vaio left Juventus in 2004 and then spent almost four relatively disappointing years with Valencia, Monaco and finally back to Serie B with Genoa in the winter of 2007. Di Vaio helped Genoa to promotion to the 2007-2008 Serie A season, but Di Vaio would only then manage three goals in 22 appearances. That was the worst year of his career and many pundits at the time thought that Di Vaio’s best days were over, but in fact, they were still to come.
Di Vaio moved to Bologna in 2008 where he remarkably turned his career around and re-established himself as one of Italy’s best forwards. Now at the end of his fourth season in the Emilia-Romagna region capital, Di Vaio has scored 65 goals in 142 league games.
The goal tally is especially impressive considering that the Bologna team of the last four seasons has always been among the favorites to get relegated, especially because of its relative lack of technical and creative ability. This has meant that not only Di Vaio has had to bear the burden of scoring the bulk of the goals, he’s also had to find ways of often scoring goals on his own. Ask anyone in Bologna why the rossoblu have been able to avoid relegation these last few years and they’ll invariably tell you something on the lines of, 90 per cent because of Di Vaio and 10 per cent because of effective defensive organization.
But Di Vaio’s cult status in Bologna can’t be solely attributed to his goals and heroics but also to his human qualities, namely his perseverance, selflessness and leadership (he is the captain of the team). He was even a candidate for this year’s Serie A exemplary player award.
The main concern with Di Vaio is, of course, his age; he’s 35 (36 in July). But considering how many minutes he’s still racking up, he surely has a few strong years ahead of him.
Just last season, he played the most minutes of any outfield player in Serie A — he only missed six minutes of the whole 3420 minute season! This year, his playing time has slightly diminished but it’s still excellent: 36 games played out of a possible 37, 31 from the start, and 2655 minutes played.
Di Vaio leads Bologna this year with ten goals (seven with his right foot, three with his left) has five assists, and attempted 51 shots on goal with 30 hitting the target.
Di Vaio will bring loads of experience, and a much needed spark for the Impact’s offence. His intelligence on the field, in the way he’s able to find spaces in and around opposing defenses, will also make him a fantastic mentor for the younger forwards like Andrew Wenger, Miguel Montano and other upcoming players from the youth academy.
The signing will also undoubtedly help on the marketing and business side of things where the Impact’s ticket sales have steadily declined since the home opener against Chicago Fire.
Overall, it’s an ideal signing, one that will help bring the Impact success in the short term and help build an important foundation for the future.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer who covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com. Follow Nick on Twitter.