Person of Interest: Dzemaili adds touch of class to Impact

Sportsnet Central Montreal panel breaks down the Impact's Canadian Championship win over Vancouver, look ahead to the finals vs. Toronto, and salivate over the one match do-or-die event to determine entry to Champions League.

A lot of players from abroad struggle to adapt to Major League Soccer upon their arrival.

There’s a lot to overcome, including the travel, the culture shock, language barriers and the high level of physicality in the league.

But Montreal Impact midfielder Blerim Dzemaili seems to have settled in quite nicely since joining the MLS club last month on loan from Serie A’s Bologna.

Here’s a quick look at the Swiss international:

WHY IS HE IN THE NEWS?

Dzemaili, 31, has been with Montreal for less than a month but he’s already, you’ll excuse the obvious pun, made a big impact.

The Swiss star scored his first MLS goal on the weekend to guide Montreal to a 1–0 victory over the visiting New York Red Bulls. After having a goal nullified for offside earlier in the match, he linked up with Ignacio Piatti, completing a pretty give-and-go sequence before firing a shot from inside the penalty area that beat Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles in the 67th minute.

He also scored in a 4–2 home win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the second leg of the Canadian Championship earlier in the week, a result that helped the Impact overturn a first-leg deficit and advance to the final.

WHAT MAKES HIM SO SPECIAL?

Dzemaili has added a touch of class and a cutting edge to Montreal’s midfield with his well-timed runs into the box and his great passing range. He also boasts a powerful shot, and is a threat from set pieces.

Crucially, the Swiss star has already shown a bit of chemistry with Piatti, the Impact’s influential midfield creator.

CLUB AND INTERNATIONAL CAREER

Born in Macedonia, Dzemaili grew up in Switzerland, where he cut his teeth with the youth academy of FC Zurich before making his debut with the senior team in 2003, and he went to serve as captain.

He made the move to England when he signed with Bolton in 2007, but a knee injury sidelined him for six months, and he made only one appearance for Sam Allardyce’s club.

In 2008 he went to Italy, where he’s since spent the bulk of his career — save for a two-year spell in Turkey with Galatasaray — bouncing around between Torino, Parma, Genoa, Napoli and Bologna. Montreal president Joey Saputo, who also serves as chairman of Bologna, announced last year that Dzemaili would join the MLS club on loan at the end of the 2016–17 Serie A season.

Dzemaili has earned close to 60 caps for Switzerland, making his national-team debut in 2006. He was named to the Swiss team for that year’s World Cup in Germany, but didn’t make it onto the pitch. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Dzemaili scored on a free kick in a group-stage game against France after coming on as a substitute at the start of the second half. He was also part of the Swiss squad that competed at Euro 2016.

HIS MOST FAMOUS MOMENT

It came in a 5–2 loss against France at the 2014 World Cup, but Dzemaili’s long-range free kick that beat France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was still spectacular.

HE SAID IT

“I feel very comfortable. The team gives me a lot of confidence and I try to give that confidence back. I play football because I love it and I just want to have fun. When you play without thinking too much, you automatically play well.” — Dzemaili, to Canadian Press

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT HIM

“He’s fitting in nicely in the midfield. He’s a quality player and he’s only getting started. There’s a lot of good things coming once he understands the league more and his teammates. He’s going to help this team tremendously.” – Impact coach Mauro Biello

Sportsnet's Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport's biggest issues.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.