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Montreal Impact head coach Marco Schällibaum is leaving a positive imprint on his players with his methodical and technically oriented approach to training.

MONTREAL - While Paolo Pacione and Mauro Biello run fitness and warm-up drills, head coach Marco Schällibaum stands passively on the sidelines, at times, looking almost disinterested. Like actor Orson Welles in the classic film noire The Third Man, Schällibaum eventually enters late onto the scene and steals the spotlight, and that’s when the Montreal Impact players start to get into the real nitty-gritty of things.  

This year’s preseason is very different than last year’s, due in large part to the fact that last season, erstwhile coach Jesse Marsch was building a team from scratch and had so much to work on in a short time frame. Within the first days of training, the Impact had already started working on defensive organization.  

This year, after almost three weeks of training, Schällibaum has only scarcely touched upon tactical subject matter: the main focus has been fitness, coupled with gradual increases in ball work and possession drills.  

As midfielder Patrice Bernier explained to reporters this week, there’s been a logical progression to training so far.

“[The training] is something I’m used to from [my time] in Europe,” Bernier said. “You can see that there are levels. Everything we do has something to do with the next thing we do the next day and the next week.

“The first week we trained mostly [in an area of] 20-30 yards; the week after we started training in 50-60 yards and the bigger the pitch the dynamic of the way he wants us to play [starts to come out].”

With a limited roster at his disposal, Marsch’s focus was turning the Impact into a hard-working blue collar team, one that could win games by simply “out-competing” opponents. Work hard and the results will come, was the gist of the message.

This year the emphasis is on playing well. Schällibaum has been very animated in training when conducting drills, demanding improved technical play, particularly quicker and more fluid possession.  

Midfielder Justin Mapp has noted the differences in training under the Swiss boss, and though it’s been more technically demanding, he feels the players are up to task.

“I think it’s been good so far,” Mapp told Goal.com. “We haven’t done a whole lot of tactical stuff. I think the coach is trying to get to know some of the personalities and players and their tendencies. But it’s been good.

“There’s been a lot of work in tight spaces which is maybe a little different than last year and I think that he wants us to be a team that plays the ball on the ground - quickly and technically – and I think we got the players to do that”.

Schällibaum told reporters this week that he can already see a difference in the team’s performance since the start of camp.  

“When I think back to two weeks ago and the first steps we took together, I have to say they’re understanding the message and they’re showing very good quality of play,” Schällibaum stated

With the Impact having just left for Florida and with the first preseason games just around the corner, one of the team’s focuses for the next few weeks will be tactical preparation. Schällibaum doesn’t have a fixed idea of what tactical setup he will opt for when the season starts, but he did stress the importance of having different options.   

“I have [different] ideas,” said Schällibaum. “The base is four defenders. Then we can play 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 – 4-4-2 also – but it depends also on the players in form in the moment and the players on the other team.

“We must be flexible. It’s important to have an answer to a question and I will try two, three things in Orlando and then we’ll decide before the game in Seattle”.

So far, Schällibaum has shown that he’s in control.  His authoritative presence, his methodical approach to training and his more technically oriented style has had a positive impact on the players and has created a positive atmosphere.

Even President Joey Saputo has taken notice.

“I went to two practices this week; the vibe is definitely better this year,” Saputo stated via his Twitter account in January.

“Success not guaranteed, but it's a start.”

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