Nick Sabetti: Marco Di Vaio an important ambassador for MLS

Montreal forward Marco Di Vaio has not only helped the Impact on the field, he's also sparked interest for MLS in markets where the league was largely unknown.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – As the MLS All-Star practice began to wind down on Tuesday, the swarm of journalists on the touchline at Sporting Park delivered their requests for players they wished to interview.

Unsurprisingly, Montreal Impact forward and Designated Player, Marco Di Vaio, was one of the most sought after players.

When the training session finally came to a close, Di Vaio patiently passed from one interview to the next, answering questions in English, French, Spanish and Italian. The former Juventus, Valencia and Monaco forward knew fully well that coming to the MLS All-Star game wasn’t going to result in a holiday. 

“The MLS All-Star game is very important for the club, because we’re here to represent the Impact, the fans and represent our team,” Di Vaio said in translated French. “We are very happy to be here and to play this game.”

Perhaps it is less apparent in the United States, where Montreal doesn’t receive as much attention in soccer circles as it does in Canada, but Di Vaio has become an important ambassador for the league. When he first arrived to the continent a year ago, there were some initial grumbles about the league being overly physical or lacking in quality players and coaches, but this season he has yet to utter a single reproach.

It's partly because Di Vaio understands the marketing role he has as a DP, but especially because of a growing appreciation and affection that has emerged in him for Montreal and the league. The 37-year-old is becoming a very popular figure in Montreal and not only for his goals - he has 11 - but also for his personable demeanor and proficiency in French.

Di Vaio has played a pivotal role in helping lure players to Montreal, including the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Daniele Paponi and Andrea Pisanu. Roma captain Francesco Totti revealed on Monday in K.C. that Di Vaio had even tried to convince him to join the Impact – though that appears to be unlikely given Totti’s seemingly untiring loyalty towards Roma.  And with regards to the Impact being able to recently acquire designated player Hernan Bernadello and Adrian Lopez, players in the prime of their careers who could have easily remained in more recognized leagues, the importance of having a player of Di Vaio’s calibre on the roster can’t be underestimated either.

Di Vaio’s acquisition has really helped put the Impact on the map and has also helped MLS gain greater visibility in Europe, especially in Italy. Only two years ago it would have been almost unthinkable to find mentions of MLS in any of the peninsula's daily sports newspapers. Now it has become an almost regular occurrence, and Di Vaio’s arrival to this continent is a big reason for that.

Beyond the name and reputation of being a great goal scorer, Di Vaio still remains an excellent player. Playing his best soccer in his later years in Italy with Bologna made it such that the Impact weren’t the only option available to him a year ago. Even Inter Milan wanted to acquire his services at the time – and very likely offered him more money.

Despite his advanced years, considering his current form in MLS and quite extraordinary physical shape, Di Vaio could surely remain for another season beyond this one, though doubts linger as to whether he will sign an extension to his contract which ends following this season. He may very well decide to retire, especially with Bologna having already lined up a job for him at the club when he does.

Di Vaio insists, though, that he has yet to decide on his future and will sit down with the Impact at the end of the season.

In the end, Wednesday’s All-Star Game against Roma didn’t go all that well, as the match ended 3-1 in favor of the visitors, who looked very comfortable throughout. Some would say that the game doesn’t really matter and Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin lamented the fact that not everyone on the All-Star team took the game seriously.

But Di Vaio was bitterly disappointed with the way Roma managed to dominate proceedings.

“The game wasn’t great, because Roma played really well. It was more difficult than we thought it would be,” Di Vaio said. “We could see that we only had one training session under our belt before the game, which made things tough.

“I really enjoyed everything about the trip, except for how the game went, that didn’t go well. I hope we can do better next time."