MONTREAL — The new coach of the Montreal Impact has nine games to turn the team’s season around.
The Impact introduced Wilmer Cabrera as their new coach on Thursday in the aftermath of the firing of Remi Garde.
Cabrera, 51, previously coached the Houston Dynamo and Chivas USA. The Colombian was fired by Houston earlier this month. He led the Dynamo to a Western Conference finals appearance in 2017 and a U.S. Open Cup title in 2018.
"The idea for me, at this point, is not adapting the players to my philosophy," Cabrera said. "It’s trying to help them with the rhythm that they have to be successful while making some adjustments.
"The fact that I’m here shows that I take risks. I want my players to take risks."
Cabrera held his first training session prior to an introductory press conference, focusing on defending set pieces. He’ll need all the practice time he can give to players if he wants to accomplish goals laid out by Impact president and chief executive officer Kevin Gilmore.
"The objectives are very clear," Gilmore said. "Qualifying for the MLS playoffs and the Canadian Championship (title). Nine games."
The team would not confirm the length of Cabrera’s contract.
"Wilmer is the head coach of the Montreal Impact right now. There’s no interim tag. We’re all interim," Gilmore said.
Cabrera becomes the Impact’s sixth head coach since joining Major League Soccer in 2012. He replaces Garde, who was let go after one league win in his last eight matches. Garde joined the team in November 2017 and leaves with a record of 24-29-8.
"We’re all a bit surprised when it came out yesterday," goalkeeper Evan Bush, who has been with the team since 2011, said.
"In this business, in this industry, these things happen. It never gets easy."
"The shelf-life of a manager is very short," Gilmore said. "Unless he performs in a way that justifies keeping him long-term. That number (six coaches) isn’t out of the ordinary. Do we prefer that? No. Not at all. "
Negotiations for a new contract for Garde were ongoing up until "a week and a half ago," Gilmore said. The idea of firing the Frenchman didn’t cross his mind until the Impact gave up a 3-0 lead in a 3-3 tie against FC Dallas Saturday.
Days later, Gilmore, along with owner Joey Saputo and assistant director of player personnel Vassili Cremanzidis, met with Cabrera. Not long after, the decision was made to hire him. Gilmore says Garde was surprised and disappointed to learn he was being let go.
"I have an enormous amount of respect for (Remi)," Gilmore said. "I’ve known him for six months. But his professionalism and his work ethic are second to none. And he’s raised the bar for what we will expect for coaches going forward in this organization."
Cabrera sympathizes with Garde, but he realizes he has no time to dwell on his departure. The first of his nine games will be on Saturday when the Impact visit BMO Field for a match against rival Toronto FC.
Both teams are tied at 34 points each, along with Orlando City SC, for the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings. But Toronto holds a game in hand on both teams.
Montreal and Toronto will also meet in the Canadian Championship final in September.
"This league is crazy," Bush said. "You never know what you’re going to get. Whether it’s against you or for you. We can very well go to Toronto and get a positive result there and come into a couple of home games in Montreal with a bit of momentum."
"It’s a derby. Tough derby," Cabrera said. "But it is what it is. We’re ready for that and we have to look forward for Saturday."