After injuries and poor performances at the beginning of the season, the Impact’s fullbacks are beginning to meet original expectations.
MONTREAL - Every generation is different, but in today’s game, finding quality players at fullback is a difficult task. When it came time to build the Montreal Impact for MLS, the Impact’s technical staff were mindful of this fact and made covering the fullback position a top priority.
With the MLS expansion draft in December and a few trades in quick succession, the Impact would already have four fullbacks signed: Tyson Wahl and Josh Gardner at left fullback and Zarek Valentin and Jeb Brovksy at right fullback.
At the time, it seemed like the Impact’s most secure position, but once the season got going, it became apparent that fullback was, in fact, the team’s most fragile department.
Valentin potentially missing a number of games with the Under-23 United States national team at the Olympics meant that Brovksy would have to take his place on more than a few occasions, and, given his difficult performances at the start of the season, it didn’t seem like he was a particularly safe replacement.
Gardner’s long-term hamstring injury in mid-April meant that Wahl would be the lone man in the left of defence, which forced De Santis to begin looking at other options. A day after Wahl had his worst game of the season -- having to play every three days didn’t help his cause -- against Toronto FC in the second leg of the Canadian Amway Championship in mid May, Cameroonian left fullback Timothée Atouba was on trial with the team.
Things have, however, changed for the better.
Since the American Under-23 team failed to qualify for the Olympics, Valentin won’t be missing any other matches this season and Brovsky has raised his game since the start of the campaign and looks a viable replacement.
Gardner has recently been training regularly with the first team and played 45 minutes against Toronto FC in a reserve game on Saturday. With the Impact’s next league game on the 16th of June, the native of Brazosport, Texas, should have ample time to make a full recovery.
The Impact also announced on Tuesday the signing of Academy left fullback and Quebec native Karl Ouimette to the first team. The former captain of the Impact Under-21 side probably won’t see the field too often this season, but he does have potential and the staff will want to gradually give him minutes as the season progresses; he can also play at centre back.
“He’s fit into the group from the start in a good way,” said Impact head coach Jesse Marsch in a club press release earlier this week. “He is strong in the air and on the ball when he plays as a central defender. When he plays on the flanks, he’s still mobile enough to get forward and support the attack. His overall play has held up at a high level in training and in reserve league games when he’s played for us.”
Though the Impact may not be as strong at the fullback position like Toronto FC is with Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersely or like the Whitecaps are with Alain Rochat and Lee Young-Pyo, with Valentin (20 years old), Brovsky (23) and the addition of Ouimette (19), there’s plenty of room for improvement.
At the very least, we’re starting to see some stability.