If there was a feeling that persisted through the duration of the Montreal Impact’s rollercoaster final season in the North American Soccer League, it was one of tepid trepidation.
On the one hand, the highly anticipated coming of Major League Soccer effectively trivialized the Impact’s last NASL season, but on the other hand, the predominantly less than lacklustre exploits of the team raised many concerns for the Impact’s fate in MLS. What would become of the Impact in 2012?
Roll the clock forward to today and the team is taking shape with new staff in place and most of the required players already having put pen to paper. But the questions of yesteryear haven’t all been answered. After having looked at the current roster on many an occasion and toyed with the various possible formations that could be utilized to best serve the current crop of players, the expected tactical setup remains somewhat a mystery.
It is even likely that the members of the Impact’s technical staff themselves have yet to decide on a definite preferred formation for next year. This slight irresolution — slight because it is still fairly early days — becomes especially noticeable in the fact that Impact coach Jesse Marsch has brought five players from last year’s roster on an extended trial: defenders Nevio Pizzolitto and Simon Gatti and forwards Eduardo Sebrango, Reda Agourram and Mircea Ilcu.
Marsch isn’t bringing these players to Mexico to get another look at them, for having surveyed the team’s performance for the better part of last season, he already knows these players very well.
“Each of these players has different qualities that we think can be successful at the next level,” said Marsch. “We are interested to see how they could fit into our plans for next year.”
If he already knew what formation he was going to adopt, he would already know how these players “could fit.” It is therefore difficult to say which of these players will be selected, though the one thing that is certain is that whichever player is eventually taken will only be brought in as backup and will see very little playing time. That being said, it wouldn’t make sense to add Agourram and Ilcu to the roster.
Backup players — players in roster spots 21-30 — should be comprised of mostly veteran players and of the few youth players that would have a legitimate chance of making an immediate impact and perhaps even having a shot at breaking the first team — someone like Miguel Montano for example. Agourram and Ilcu are simply not good enough to be able to make an immediate impact in MLS.
It isn’t to say that Agourram and Ilcu don’t have the potential to become MLS calibre, but having them in the roster and then not being able to get minutes would be a real detriment to their development. Agourram has been with the Impact for two years and there really isn’t any visible improvement in his game because he hasn’t featured much since his arrival.
It’s true that there is a reserve league but it’s only useful in so far as it can keep players who don’t regularly play match fit. It’s not a place where a player can considerably grow individually: mainly because there aren’t nearly enough games — only ten — and it significantly lacks the competitive nature that a league game would possess.
The best thing for Agourram and Ilcu, if they were to be signed, would be getting immediately loaned out to another club that would actually intend on using them.
As far as the other three players are concerned, the most likely player to be signed is Gatti, because he’s versatile — he can play in any wide position of both the defence and the midfield — and he just came off his best season, which was quite an exceptional one at that. After Hassoun Camara, Evan Bush, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Ian Westlake, Gatti is the only player that won a club achievement award for last season’s exploits, but that hasn’t been signed yet.
Adding Eduardo Sebrango or Nevio Pizzolitto would almost feel like honorary signings rather than ones that makes sense from a technical standpoint, but these aren’t the kind of players that will get disgruntled and start a riot in the locker room if they only get a handful of minutes. Moreover, you know that when they do step on to the pitch that they’re going to give 200 per cent. These are the kind of things that you’d ideally want from backup players and they are good enough for that kind of role. Having them for a season wouldn’t hurt.
These decisions may seem rather petty compared to, say, dealing with the Brian Ching situation for example, but they are important because there may be a time during the season where the team is reeling from injuries and they’ll need reliable players to step up and help out. Making the right decisions in this regard could mean the difference between having a few points more or a few points less at the end of the season. That too may sound paltry, but in MLS every point is a vital one.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer who covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com. Follow Nick on Twitter.