With a new MLS season just around the corner, Goal looks at five players the Montreal Impact will be hoping can have much more of an impact than they did last year.It’s been a very quiet offseason for the Montreal Impact. Save for draft pick Eric Miller and Uruguayan forward Santiago Gonzalez, there aren’t any new players to speak of.
Therfore, improvement will invariably have to come from within this year, unless of course some reinforcements arrive over the course of the season, but given the Impact’s limited salary cap there might not be a whole lot on the horizon. And the Impact need to get better if they intend on making the playoffs, especially because the Eastern Conference will be a lot more competitive with teams like Toronto FC, D.C. United and Philadelphia Union all having significantly bolstered their squads.
Here are five players that the Montreal is banking on having much improved seasons.
Felipe was one of the Impact’s best players in their expansion season in 2012 but wasn’t as influential last year. Despite notching five goals and eight assists, the 23-year-old Brazilian never really looked himself. Often having to play out of position under erstwhile head coach Marco Schällibaum didn’t help, but he seemed to have lost the confidence and tenacity to get on the ball, fight off challenges and make plays between opposing defensive lines, which he so often demonstrated in the Impact’s first year.
“Last year, I had some good games and others not so good,” Felipe explained. “I think the first year was more representative of how I play as I was more consistent.”
The Impact will need their Brazilian playmaker at his best this season or the team’s attack will run the risk of becoming as predictable and, ultimately, as sterile as it was at the end of last season, where it was shut out in six of its last eight games.
Signing with Montreal from Argentine side Colon last August, Hernan Bernardello began his Impact tenure in sparkling fashion. Adept at breaking up play and spraying precise passes both short and long from deep positions in midfield, the 27-year-old designated player seemed like just the right pick-up for an Impact side that had become overly reliant on Patrice Bernier pulling the strings in midfield all by himself.
However, after sustaining an ankle injury which kept him out of the lineup for almost a month, Bernardello never looked as sharp as he did when he first arrived and hardly impressed in the final months of the season.
The Impact will have to decide whether or not to exercise Bernardello’s contract option in July, which would extend the Rosario native’s stay in Montreal for two years - that should provide a strong incentive for the midfielder to perform.
With Alessandro Nesta’s retirement and injuries to Nelson Rivas and Adrian Lopez, Wandrille Lefevre looks destined to get the start in central defence when the season kicks off next week in Texas. Though Lefevre will be the third choice centre-back for the Impact when Lopez returns to full fitness (which should be at some point before April) the Impact academy product will likely see plenty of playing time this season, especially with Ferrari being fairly injury prone and needing a rest every now and then.
Lefevre came up through the academy as an attacking midfielder and signed with the Impact last year as a defensive midfielder. Showing the right qualities for the role, he was finally transformed into a central defender and got a bit of a crash course at the end of last season by being thrown into several important games, where he gave a respectable account of himself.
The 25-year-old is certainly keen on getting a lot more of minutes this year, but whether he's actually ready to take on a bigger role remains to be seen.
The Impact are keeping their fingers crossed.
Impact sporting director Nick De Santis brought back Andres Romero for another season on loan from Brazilian side Tombense FC this year in the hope that the 23-year-old can start to reach his full potential.
Romero showed some flashes of quality on the left-hand side of midfield last season, but was, for the most part, disappointing.
Left midfield was an area of glaring weakness for the Impact last year and if Romero is going to start in that position again he needs to be a lot more consistent and offer more on both sides of the ball.
The jury is still out as to whether or not Andrew Wenger should be playing forward instead of in midfield or at the back, but now that he’s entering his third season in MLS, it’s probably too late for him to change. He showed some promise in his rookie season in 2012, where he bagged some important goals, but last year he struggled. In nine starts he scored once, but its the amount of quality chances that he failed to convert which was most problematic. Wenger argues that his troubles in front of goal are due to a lack of confidence and that might very well be true.
“It’s a confidence thing,” Wenger told Goal Canada last fall. “I could have started the year with four goals and then gone off and scored 10 possibly. I’ve had plenty of chances. And that’s the most frustrating thing because I find the chances. But it will work itself out in time.”
The Impact can’t expect an aging Di Vaio to repeat his 20-goal tally from last season and with newcomer Santiago Gonzalez the only other forward in the roster, Wenger needs to be able to contribute when called upon.
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