MONTREAL — Longtime Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush hopes his team can learn a lesson from its longtime rival.
"I think that we’re cautiously optimistic right now," Bush said. "If you look at teams in the past that have been too confident, you look at a team like Toronto last year who I think was a little too confident. The roster that they had, even if it was a good roster, they found themselves at mid-season being so far behind everybody that they weren’t able to crawl themselves back (and finished well back of the playoffs."
The Impact, like Toronto FC, missed the Major League Soccer playoffs last year, but expectations weren’t nearly as high for Montreal.
This season, a playoff push is expected after the Impact fell just short of the post-season last year. Montreal begins its 2019 season Saturday night against the host San Jose Earthquakes.
Midfielder Samuel Piette says the Impact’s goal for this season is "obvious."
"The main objective is to qualify for playoffs," said Piette. "It’s to get into a playoff spot and then try to make the best possible run in the playoffs."
The Impact started very slowly last year, winning just three of their first 13 matches after wholesale changes to their roster and coaching staff. But Montreal surged in the second half, missing out on a playoff spot on the season’s final day.
The 2019 edition of the Impact has far less turnover.
"It’s always nice to stick together, it’s always a pleasure to play with the same players," defender Bacary Sagna said. "Now we know each other, we know which position players can give the best of themselves."
Argentine winger and MLS all-star Ignacio Piatti will be counted on heavily for Montreal. Piatti led his team in scoring with 16 goals last year. However, much speculation has been made about his future, with speculation he could leave Montreal to be closer to his family — including his ailing father — at season’s end.
"I think that he really loves his time in Montreal," Bush said. "When there’s more people with decisions to be made for than just a player, it becomes a bit more difficult."
The Impact likely will field a 4-3-3 formation, which gave them success last season. It will allow wing-backs like Daniel Lovitz and Sagna to contribute to the Impact offence.
"We’re trying to play more from the back," Sagna said. "As long as we remain strong defensively, we can always create chances and we can always score because we have quality strikers."
However, the formation lacked scoring punch. Strikers Matteo Mancosu nor Quincy Amarikwa couldn’t fit the bill last season and have since departed for greener pastures.
Instead, newcomer Maximiliano Urruti will be called on to score. The former FC Dallas striker scored 29 times in 95 appearances before being traded to Montreal this past December.
"I think he came to our team at the perfect time," Piette said. "Great finishing. Great guy as well. I think he’ll do a lot of great things with (Piatti) as well."
Montreal also has Orji Okwonkwo on loan from Bologna. The Nigerian prefers to play on the right wing, but he can also play as a striker. Harry Novillo will step also see time at wing.
Youngster Anthony Jackson-Hamel, whose future was unclear at the end of last season, also remains on the roster. But eyes will be on 20-year old Mathieu Choiniere, who joined the Impact roster last season and capped his training camp with a stunning goal in pre-season play.
MONTREAL IMPACT AT A GLANCE
LAST SEASON: 14-16-4, missed playoffs
COACH: Remi Garde (2nd season, 14-16-4 as an MLS manager)
KEY DEPARTURES: Striker Matteo Mancosu, Striker Quincy Amarikwa, Midfielder Alejandro Silva, Defender Rod Fanni
KEY NEWCOMERS: Striker Max Urruti, Striker Orji Okwonkwo, Midfielder Harry Novillo
KEY RETURNEES: Midfielder Ignacio Piatti, Goalkeeper Evan Bush, Defender Bacary Sagna
THE BURNING QUESTION: Can the Impact play like they did during the second half of last season and make the playoffs?