Impact open camp without Tabla; transfer to European club expected


Ballou Tabla , was not among the 31 players at Olympic Stadium for Montreal's first on-field workout of training camp. (Peter McCabe/CP)

MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact are close to losing Ballou Tabla, their brightest young prospect, to a European club.

And technical director Adam Braz believes that’s good news.

Tabla, 18, was not among the 31 players at Olympic Stadium for Montreal’s first on-field workout of training camp Tuesday.

Instead, the Ivory Coast-born, Montreal-raised midfielder is about to get his wish to play in Europe, where soccer is king and most of the world’s top players ply their trade.

Braz said Montreal is in "very advanced discussions with a club about a permanent transfer." He did not name the club, but expects a deal to go through in the next few days.

While it leaves the Impact thin up front, Braz said it was exciting rather than disappointing to lose Tabla.

"It’s something we as a club should be proud of in terms of having a young player that came through our academy, that we developed, that then went on to play with the first team," he said. "He’s a player who had ambitions to play in Europe and this is an opportunity for everyone to win.

"It’s an exciting moment in terms of the evolution of the club. But it’s also a signal to our young players in the academy, and young players who are not currently in the academy, that there is a pathway not only to the first team, but eventually to be transferred to Europe."

Tabla played 21 MLS games last season, mostly on the right wing but also moving into the middle when needed. The teenager showed skill and potential and chipped in two goals.

What he will miss is a chance to play under former Lyon boss Remi Garde, who replaced Mauro Biello as the Impact coach in November. Garde made sweeping off-season changes with an eye towards making the Impact a younger, more energetic side than the mistake-prone group that missed the playoffs last season.

Braz expects to bring in more players because there are still blank spots on the roster.

With Tabla and Andres Romero both gone, Dominic Oduro, and perhaps Michael Salazar, are the only right side wingers back from last season. Braz said 20-year-old Chilean Jeisson Vargas, who signed Monday, may fill that role.

"He’s a very crafty player," said Braz. "Very good in terms of combination play.

"Gifted technically. Can shoot from distance. So he’s an option. There are other players on the squad who need to show Remi they can step up and produce."

They also did not add a striker, so Matteo Mancosu, coming off a weak season, and academy product Anthony Jackson-Hamel, a surprise with nine goals as a rookie, are the top candidates for that job.

Scoring leader Ignacio Piatti is back with a lucrative new contract to play on the left side. The only other designated player is newcomer Saphir Taider, the former Bologna midfielder who Montreal hopes will contribute on both sides of the ball. He replaces Blerim Dzemaili, who returned to Bologna.

Central defence is another thin spot. With Laurent Ciman, Hassoun Camara and Wandrille Lefevre gone, Victor Cabrera and lanky newcomer Zakaria Diallo are likely to play in the middle. Braz said Kyle Fisher is still recovering from a stress fracture in his leg suffered late last season and won’t start camp.

Where Montreal is deep is at fullback, with Chris Duvall and Michael Petrasso on the right and Daniel Lovitz, Raheem Edwards and Jukka Raitala on the left. Samuel Piette and Marco Donadel can play the holding midfield spot.

In goal, Evan Bush has a new backup in Clement Diop.

Duvall said Garde has yet to get into what kind of game he wants the team to play, but a needed boost in fitness will be a priority.

"Things are definitely going to be different," said Duvall. "I think this pre-season is going to be tough on us and we’re going to come out very fit and come out as more of a team than we were last year, so I think it’s exciting.

"It’s clear that in a lot of games we were giving up set piece goals and quick goals, late goals, and I think a lot of that is due to fitness, so this year having a fit team could be huge for us because this league moves fast and it’s very athletic. Fitness is a huge part of it. We want to bring quality too but a lot of teams in this league rely on their fitness and physicality, so that’s something we need to match."

The Impact will spend a week training in Miami, return Jan. 30, then continue camp in Las Vegas and Florida. They open the season March 4 in Vancouver.

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