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Impact coach Frank Klopas is hoping to make his side tougher to break down this season, despite the fact that it's now visibly weaker with Alessandro Nesta out of the picture.

After a brute but successful tackle, Nelson Rivas hits the ground awkwardly and the players and staff watching around him hold their breath. But he’s not hurt – not yet anyway. The stout and, at the same time, fragile Colombian defender gingerly gets himself back up and Thursday's training session at the Marie-Victorin Sports Complex carries on to a palpable wave of relief.

Rivas, whose career has been marred by endless injury problems, is an accident waiting to happen - everyone knows it - and yet he’s been signed on for another season, expected to be one of the team’s leading defenders. The Impact already gambled once with Rivas, when signing him two years ago, but gambling on him a second time, after not getting a good return the first time around (he played a total of 12 games in two years and was sent off twice during that span) just seems like plain folly. Since Alessandro Nesta retired after last season, and Adrian Lopez is out until March with an ACL tear and probably won’t be ready to play until well into April, the Impact are also a little desperate; they need all the help they can get at the back.

Last year, the Impact had one of the worst defensive records in the league, conceding 49 goals in 34 games. New coach Frank Klopas has admitted that that number will need to be reduced this year.
No surprise then that Klopas has decided to bring along a former center-back as an assistant coach.

Nikolaos Kounenakis, who played for many years in the Greek Super League as well as in Belgium with Anderlecht and in Holland with Roda JC, signed with the Impact earlier this week.

“The club’s record last year for conceding goals was very high and Frank’s brought me over to help in that respect,” Kounenakis told Goal. “If we’re going to achieve our goals this year we're going to need a very compact defensive unit.”

Kounenakis, who holds a UEFA Pro License, has managed to watch most of last year’s Impact games and analyze the manner in which goals were given up. He says he understands what needs to be improved. 

“One of the things we saw is that the team can be more aggressive,” Kounenakis explained. “We have to work on being more vocal, communicative and we have to be more aggressive as a team in general. Man marking in the box, clearing the ball out of defense, closing spaces, closing the ball down, defensive transitions - we have to be more aggressive.”

He added: “Things need to run like clockwork. It’s going to be a hard preseason: there’s going to be the two sessions a day, there’s going to be tactical and technical training, video analysis, mental training, individual and functional training, everything we need to be ready on the eighth of March.”

The Impact managed to shut out opponents eight times last season and Nesta played in each of those games. Coincidence? Probably not. His absence in training camp can already be felt. Other players will have to step up and fill the leadership gap. The Impact are hoping Rivas can fill that void, but that’s probably asking too much.

Younger defenders will be counted on a lot more. Academy products Wandrille Lefèvre, Karl Ouimette and Maxim Tissot will need to step up their game. Fullback Eric Miller, who was drafted by the Impact in the first round of this year’s College draft, will be expected to contribute as well.

It’s difficult to see the Impact conceding significantly less goals than last year or having more clean sheets, though it is true that the Impact’s often attacking, almost gung-ho approach under Marco Schällibaum, left the back four all too often with its hands full. A more rigid style of play would certainly help.

With the current personnel, Klopas and his staff will have their work cut out for them.

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