Despite the shortcomings of both himself and his squad, Jesse Marsch has Montreal still fighting for the playoffs, a feat which merits MLS coach of the year consideration.
Irrespective of the final score, Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsch has always maintained a serious appearance on the field following final whistles. At least, that was the case until last Sunday, where Marsch was visibly delighted after his team overcame the New England Revolution 1-0 on the road.
The win was only the Impact’s second of the season away from home, and the team’s hopes for a place in the postseason persisted.
Truth be told, no one really gave the club a fighting chance at the beginning of the season and understandably so because, except for the Chicago Fire in 1998, the Houston Dynamo in 2006 - though that side wasn’t starting from scratch - and the Seattle Sounders in 2009, MLS expansion sides have never really fared exceptionally well, especially the Canadian ones.
And for much of the current season, the Impact looked like a typical expansion side: conceding goals aplenty, lacking ideas when going forward, and looking very vulnerable away from home.
But as the season has worn on, things have gradually turned for the better.
Even with designated player Marco Di Vaio disappointingly failing to contribute offensively, the Impact’s attack has managed to find the back of the net 36 times in 26 games, which isn’t too shabby.
Montreal may still possess the worst defensive record in the league, but the inclusion of Alessandro Nesta and the return of injured players Matteo Ferrari and Nelson Rivas - head-butts aside - makes a world of a difference.
Hassoun Camara, being a natural midfielder, needed some convincing from Marsch to play in central defense, but he’s starting to prove that he can be a more than reliable player in that role when called upon. His performance against New England last Sunday was arguably his best by far.
The Montreal defence has conceded only once in its last three games, which includes two consecutive shutouts, something that would have been almost unthinkable earlier in the year.
For all of his inexperience and faults, Marsch has kept the Impact ship afloat, and though often wavering in its course, he has ultimately kept it steering in the right direction.
And yet, as Marsch would say, the Impact hasn’t yet arrived to “where it needs to be.”
What is probably the true measure of a team’s ability are the results it is able to obtain away from home. It is there where a team’s defence is tested most, where keeping possession while overcoming more aggressive and often relentless pressing isn’t easy, and where transition play and finding the back of the net are much more difficult endeavours with there being often more ground to cover.
In this respect, there is much more work to be done for the Impact, but Sunday’s win against the Revs was perhaps an indication that the side might just be turning a page on this front as well, and they’ll have to be doing so if they want to make the playoffs.
As far as the MLS coach of the year award goes, with the Impact exceeding expectations, Marsch is certainly starting to make a case for himself.
Right now, there are probably more worthy candidates, like Vancouver Whitecaps’ Martin Rennie or San Jose Earthquakes’ Frank Yallop, but if the Impact were to somehow find themselves in the postseason come November, it would be extremely difficult to deny Marsch the honours.
Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com Canada.