Here, finally, is someone from outside of Major League Soccer — someone with experience at the highest levels of the European club game — who can help guide the team moving forward both on and off the pitch.
It was evident from this past season that changes were badly needed. The technical gap between the Impact and the best sides in the Eastern Conference was significant. And in a league that continues to rapidly improve every year, becoming ever more competitive, it was evident that Montreal needed to make significant changes in order to avoid falling further behind. Compared to when Montreal joined MLS in 2012, the league today is in many ways unrecognizable.
With Garde having worked at Olympique Lyon both as an assistant and a head coach, as well as with its world-class academy, the hope is that he will be able to improve the Impact organization from top to bottom. On the field, in the image of his Lyon team, he says he wants the Impact to play an attacking, possession-oriented brand of soccer, which would be a huge cultural shift for a club that has been a mostly a counter-attacking side.
It was the case that, going into the 2017 campaign, one of former coach Mauro Biello’s priorities was for the Impact to have more possession, but it didn’t work out. The roster that Garde has inherited isn’t at all equipped for this kind of game, however it’s probably safe to say that next season’s Impact will look very different under his watch.
The task of deciding which players to let go, who to keep and which recruits to go after and sign will be a huge task. Player recruitment, and managing the salary cap, has been an area of weakness for the Impact. In the past, the player searches have been far too narrow, mostly limited to Italy and Argentina, and a few trusted agents.
The hope is that Garde will be able to expand the Impact’s horizons. Despite being the only Francophone club in North America, the Impact have yet to sign a player from France since joining MLS, a remarkable fact. But with Garde on board, now’s the time to take advantage of his contacts in France.
The biggest priorities will be finding a new left fullback and a central midfielder, following the departure of Cameroonian international Ambroise Oyongo and the retirement of Patrice Bernier. The Impact will also need another winger for the right-hand side, where last season they lacked a consistent performer. For the most part, Domenic Oduro struggled; Andres Romero, coming back from long term injury, has never been convincing.
Aside from Ignacio Piatti, Blerim Dzemaili, Canadian Samuel Piette and (maybe) Laurent Ciman, Montreal’s current roster offers few certainties. The question marks include, who will start alongside Ciman in central defence? Is Chris Duvall good enough to be a starter at right fullback? Can Matteo Mancosu bounce back after a terrible 2017 season or will the team have to sign another forward? Will Garde be able to convince Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla to stick around a little longer before leaving for Europe?
Given all the team’s needs, it shouldn’t be excepted that Garde is going to get all the pieces he wants in one transfer window. This is the beginning of a new project for the Impact and it’s one that will need time, especially with Garde needing to adapt to a new league, which, judging by his remarks this week, he doesn’t know too much about.
Although this is exciting moment for the Montreal Impact, a lot of patience will be needed.