When Justin Mapp found some space on the New England Revolution’s right hand side on Wednesday night and put in a cross at the back post, few would have bet on Sanna Nyassi being able to volley the ball home. Against the odds, he did just that and the goal would ultimately grant the Montreal Impact a vital 2-1 win and keep the team’s playoff hopes - though only just - alive.
With 12 games remaining, the Impact already have more wins than four of the 11 expansion teams of the past: Chivas USA (4 wins) and Real Salt Lake (5 wins) in 2005, Toronto FC (6 wins) in 2007, and the Vancouver Whitecaps (6 wins) in 2011. With seven wins so far, the Impact are on course for a total of ten by the end of the season, which would have been almost unthinkable at the beginning of the year. Just about every analyst didn’t give the team much of a chance of finishing the season somewhere better than dead last.
The club is now in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Chicago Fire and the Houston Dynamo. Having played a few games more than everyone else, the Impact would need an almost extraordinary finish to the campaign in order to make the postseason, but the fact that the playoffs are still on the cards at this stage is an accomplishment in itself.
The Impact were supposed to have a difficult time finding the back of the net this year, and even with Marco Di Vaio failing to contribute so far, the Impact have scored a very respectable 30 goals in 22 games.
Though the team possesses the worst defensive record in the league, with the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari and Nelson Rivas returning to the fold next week, the defence will look considerably more formidable - to say the least. And even with an almost second string back line, the Impact were still able to grind out results recently against the Columbus Crew and the Revolution, which is definitely a sign of progress.
The team is moving very well on the transfer market, too. Shipping out Tyson Wahl, Justin Braun and Miguel Montano were necessary moves. 21-year-old Swiss defender Dennis Iapichino looks like a promising signing as well, and the club continues to look for a second designated player.
But when head coach Jesse Marsch was asked in the postgame press conference Wednesday about his feelings concerning his team’s successes in its expansion season, the Wisconsin native said that the team was actually dissatisfied.
“We’re moving ourselves along, but overall I think there’s disappointment with some of the results,” Marsch explained. “I think there’s a feeling in the group that we can be a good team. We don’t use that 'E' word anymore because we don’t think ourselves as that anymore.”
Club president Joey Saputo doesn’t want to consider the club an expansion side either, or use that as an excuse for not having been flawless, but the fact is that it is an expansion team, and considering the fact, the players and staff have done rather well.
The Impact shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. Yes, they’ve played better than their record suggests - they’ve lost and drawn a number of games they should have won - but that’s all part of the learning process.
Naturally, mistakes have been made along the way, but the club should be proud of the work that’s been done so far.
Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com Canada.