MONTREAL — Argentine players are flocking to Major League Soccer, and the Montreal Impact are reaping the benefits.
The Impact currently have five players from the South American soccer giant. While scoring star Ignacio (Nacho) Piatti is well-known around the league, midfielder Hernan Bernardello and defender Victor Cabrera are starters for the blue-and-black.
Injured midfielder Andres Romero is in his fifth season in Montreal and midfielder Adrian Arregui is just starting his first.
“We feel good that there’s five of us here,” Bernardello said Tuesday. “We’ll try to do our best.”
There are 17 Argentine players in MLS, more than any country other than the U.S. and Canada. Costa Rica is next with 11 while Jamaica has 10.
Bernardello said it is not surprising.
“It’s not easy in Argentina, but here, the quality of life is better and there are a lot of teams in the league that want to grow quickly,” he said. “That means a lot of South American players, not only Argentines, as well as European players want to come here.”
On the Impact, they form the third largest group after Canadians (8) and Americans (7). Romero was the team’s player of the year in 2014 and Piatti won it the last two seasons.
The danger of having that many from one non-North American country is that they would form a clique, but assistant coach Jason Di Tullio said the club makes a point of getting the players to put the team first.
“We build an environment where respect and loyalty come first,” said Di Tullio. “It doesn’t matter your religion, your culture or your nationality.
“(Head coach) Mauro Biello’s put in place a team-first mentality. The open communication Mauro has with everyone allows them to have that brotherhood during the difficult moments. It’s a long season and there’s going to be ups and downs. Sometimes things get heated up, but in terms of cliques, it’s the environment we have in place and once we’re on the same page, it’s about winning games. That’s the most important thing.”
Defender Hassoun Camara said the club got through the same situation before. When he started in 2011, a year before the Impact joined MLS, he was part of a large contingent from France. Then the team had an Italian phase. Now it’s Argentines.
“They’re very open,” said Camara. “They’re great guys and they’re very good on the field too. They bring quality to the field. Away from the field, they’re likable guys who have a lot of respect and who are open to dialogue and to all cultures.”
It helps that four-year Impact player Piatti is the team’s top attacker and a leader on the squad. The 32-year-old, who led the club with 17 goals last season plus four more in the playoffs, was a big part of Montreal’s run to the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2015 and to reaching the MLS Eastern Conference final in November.
Now there is talk that Piatti may be selected to play for Argentina’s powerhouse national team by its new boss Edgardo Bauza, who coached him when they won a Libertadores Cup in 2014 with the San Lorenzo club.
“I would say you definitely have to give him a call up,” said Di Tullio. “We have the luxury of seeing him every day expressing himself and bringing joy and intensity to the game.
“I’d live to see Nacho wearing that Argentina jersey. For me, he deserves it.”
The 30-year-old Bernardello is in his fourth season, in two stints, while 24-year-old Cabrera is in his third. Arregui, 24, played his first minutes as a substitute in Montreal’s 2-2 home draw with Seattle on Saturday night.
Arregui plays in the central midfield, where he will compete for playing time with Bernardello, captain Patrice Bernier, Marco Donadel and Calum Mallace.
For Di Tullio, the Argentine players bring the ability to play either a physical or a finesse game that allows them to adapt easily to MLS once they’ve been through an adaptation period.
Having five at once should help newer players adjust to a new city, different languages and a league that covers an immense area and where travel is especially tough.
Camara sees the Impact’s Argentines as a plus.
“There are a lot of players in the league from Argentina and it’s a good sign because they show a lot of quality, technically, and they can bring a fighting spirit like Bernardello and Cabrera.
“Argentina is a football country. They have an extraordinary history with legends from every generation like (Lionel) Messi and (Diego) Maradona. Players coming from a culture like that is good for MLS.”