MONTREAL — It had been a quiet start for the six holdovers from last year’s Montreal Impact until Sinisa Ubiparipovic broke the silence with a goal in the team’s first victory since making the jump to Major League Soccer.
It is not as though the returning players are about to take over the club, but the midfielder’s goal in a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC last Saturday at Olympic Stadium was a happy moment for the group that played last season in the North American Soccer League, which is rated as second division.
Ubiparipovic and forward Miguel Montano are the only ones to see any playing time in the club’s first six MLS games, one game each. Goalkeepers Greg Sutton and Evan Bush, defender Hassoun Camara and forward Eduardo Sebrango have sat idle.
"There’s a lot of competition and it’s hard to get a chance," Sebrango said Thursday. "He got his chance and he proved he can play at this level. It was a great goal."
But it likely wasn’t enough to earn Ubiparipovic a second straight start when the Impact (1-4-1) visit FC Dallas (2-2-1) on Saturday night, seeking their first away point of the season. The set-up from practice suggests Justin Mapp, Collen Warner, Felipe Martins and Lamar Neagle will be in midfield.
Jesse Marsch, who was hired by Montreal last Aug. 10 to coach the club when it entered MLS as an expansion team this season, spent the latter part of the 2011 season observing the team and deciding which players would make the jump to the higher league.
One of them was Ubiparipovic, who had signed as a free agent only eight days before Marsch was hired after four MLS seasons with the New York Red Bulls.
He had two goals in 69 games with New York, and has one goal in one MLS match for Montreal.
"Sinisa’s shown that we can count on him," said Marsch. "From the beginning, even going back to last year, I’ve challenged him to be ready and prepared to be used in different roles, some of those roles being used off the bench.
"Or, if he’s not in the 18 (dressed for a game), that he’s still part of the group and handles himself the right way."
The 28-year-old Ubiparipovic, a Bosnian Serb whose family moved to the United States in 1999, missed the start of the season with a knee injury and is not yet ready to play a full 90 minutes, although he said he’s getting close.
"We all want to play," he said. "There’s a lot of competition.
"That’s the hardest part of being here. You have to compete every day, do your best and wait for Jesse to make his decision. I spoke to him and he’s really happy with me. He mentioned that he knows it hasn’t gone my way but to keep working and he’s going to need me."
Sebrango and Camara were also injured in the pre-season, while Sutton and Bush are backing up starter Donovan Ricketts, a former MLS goalkeeper of the year.
All six have had to adjust from being important figures on last year’s Impact to role players on the MLS squad. Other stalwarts, including former captain Nevio Pizzolitto, tried out and didn’t make the club.
But no player can get too comfortable as the first 11 evolves through the early season.
For the first few matches, the starters appeared to be set, but as the losses began adding up and their schedule became tighter, players like Warner, fullback Zarek Valentin and central defender Shavar Thomas started to get playing time. Now the pool of players who may start a game has gone from 11 to 14 or 15.
"As a player, you don’t want to think about that too much," said Ubiparipovic. "It might get to you.
"My mentality is there’s still a lot to prove. The season is long, 34 games, and there are always going to be changes — players who are in good form and players who go down a bit. A lot of guys have done well."
Marsch said a key was for players who are left out of the lineup to accept it without complaint and wait their turn.
Last week, local favourite Patrice Bernier stormed off without talking to the media after practice when he learned he wouldn’t start against Toronto. But hours later he was sending appeals for fans to support the team on Twitter.
"From the beginning, we’ve talked about what it will be like on this team and I’ve tried to show respect to everybody," said Marsch. "They’ve all handled themselves very well."
The club moved its training base this week from an artificial surface at a municipal park to it’s regular base on a grass field at the Claude Robillard Centre, which was the Impact’s home stadium from the early 1990s until Saputo Stadium was built in 2008.
Sebrango, Sutton and Bernier, whose pro career began with the Impact a decade ago before he moved on to Europe, played at Claude Robillard, where they often drew 12,000 fans to the 7,500-seat facility.
"I like being outside on the grass," said Sebrango. "And I have a lot of memories here.
"Obviously 2004, winning the (A-League) championship. I remember the locker room after. That night the party was… And I have another good memory — 2006 in the semifinals with the (Vancouver) Whitecaps, against the Impact."
Ubiparipovic and Sebrango got extra work in the Impact reserve team’s 1-0 win over Toronto on Wednesday.
After Dallas, Montreal plays next April 18 at D.C. United. The Impact will play seven of their first 10 on the road. Their next home date is April 28 against Portland.
The Impact lead MLS in fouls with 88, but Marsch disputes the idea they are a dirty team.
"We have been labelled a physical team because of all the fouls," he said. "If you take out the first game (a 2-0 loss in Vancouver), where we got called for 26 fouls and I don’t think half of those were fouls, we’re in the mix with everyone else.
"We have made an effort to be hard to play against, to be physical on the field, to win our duels. Sometimes that means we’ll dish out some fouls. That’s the way the game goes and we’re not going to apologize for that."