There’s plenty of head scratching going on at Stade Saputo these days, as the Impact try to ascertain why a season that had started so well ended so poorly.The Montreal Impact’s sophomore season in MLS was a tale of two halves.
The first half of the season was exceptional. The Impact were first in MLS; they won the Canadian Championship and qualified for the Champions League; and they were also playing quite an attractive brand of soccer under new boss Marco Schallibaum.
The second half, however, ended in disaster. The Impact were knocked out in the Champions League group stage and fell to fifth place in the league. They did manage to sneak into the playoffs, but were easily knocked out in the first round by the Houston Dynamo.
Making the playoffs was a great accomplishment, but the dismal manner in which the Impact finished the season has put the coaching staff and many of the players’ future in doubt.
THE FORWARDS: B-
Montreal's record of 50 goals scored this season was good for second best in the Eastern Conference and sixth best overall. Marco Di Vaio was the main reason for the Impact's offensive success as he lead the team in scoring with 20 goals.
The rest of the Impact’s goals came mostly from midfield. Daniele Paponi and Andrew Wenger, the team’s only other forwards, didn’t score more than three goals between them.
In the last stretch of the season, the scoring started to dry up for the Impact; they were kept scoreless in six of their last nine games, including a 3-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in the first round of the playoffs.
Leaving Di Vaio alone up top next season is unlikely. Acquiring a new forward, perhaps a designated player, will be a priority.
THE MIDFIELD: C+
Patrice Bernier pulled the strings in midfield once again this season and the Impact simply aren’t the same without him. The hip injury he sustained at the end of the season was a critical blow.
Signed in August, DP Hernan Bernardello started his Impact tenure in bright fashion, but he wasn’t the same after returning from an ankle injury which kept him out of the lineup for nearly a month. The 27-year-old has an option to stay for two more seasons, but is he worth a DP spot?
After a disappointing season, Davy Arnaud was benched for the Impact’s playoff game in Houston and he didn’t take his omission very well. It’s unlikely he will be back next season.
Felipe never really looked himself this campaign, but still managed to notch five goals and eight assists. If the Impact decide to play with two forwards next year, his future in Montreal could be in jeopardy.
The major weakness for the Impact is, just like in 2012, the outside midfield positions. New signings Andrea Pisanu and Andres Romero were largely disappointing. Justin Mapp had an excellent season, but if he’s still the only outlet in transition next year, then the Impact will be in big trouble.
THE DEFENCE: C-
There were some excellent defensive displays over the course of the season, but for the most part, the Impact simply weren’t good enough at the back. With 49 goals conceded, they had one of the worst defensive records in the league.
Alessandro Nesta’s retirement will leave a big gap in central defense, one that midseason signing Adrian Lopez was supposed to fill, but he’ll need to recover from an ACL tear. Academy product Wandrille Lefevre proved to be a nice surprise at center-back and will be ready to give a helping-hand next season.
Matteo Ferrari will probably be back for another year, but like Nesta this season, he’ll probably need a break every now and then.
Sources told Goal last week that sporting director Nick De Santis is currently looking for a left fullback, which means that Hassoun Camara will likely move back to his preferred position in central defence, while Jeb Brovsky will slot to right fullback.
THE GOALKEEPING: B+
Troy Perkins was one of the better goalkeepers in MLS this season and also the busiest as he led the league in saves with 109.
Backup goalkeeper Evan Bush also did well when called upon and will be hoping to be a starter next season in Montreal or elsewhere.
THE MANAGEMENT: B
A month ago it was the Impact who were waiting on Marco Schällibaum to decide whether or not he wanted to stay in Montreal for another season, but now it’s the reverse: Schällibaum wants to be back next year, but De Santis and Saputo are no longer certain that the Swiss Volcano is the man for the job.
The team overachieved at the start of the season, winning tough games on the road in Seattle, Portland and Kansas City, but Schällibaum couldn’t help keep the team afloat in the end.
None of the team’s signings in 2013 had much of an impact.
OVERALL GRADE: B