New coach Klopas only big change as Impact opens third MLS training camp
Monday, Jan 27, 2014 04:15 pm
MONTREAL - There were no flashy new signings on the field as the Montreal Impact opened camp Monday.
But there was a new head coach in Frank Klopas, the former Chicago Fire boss who hopes to take the Impact further this season with mostly the same personnel.
"I know the team from playing against them," said Klopas, who was hired Dec. 18 to replace Marco Schallibaum. "I knew I was coming to a team with a good foundation to build on."
Missing from his first 90-minute workout on the indoor pitch at Marie Victorin College were Italian defender Alessandro Nesta, who has retired, and former captain Davy Arnaud, now with D.C. United.
Midfielder Andres Romero was also absent, but only temporarily due to a visa problem. Reserve midfielder Andrea Pisanu was let go.
What was really missing was the presence of any new talent to make up for the loss of two key veterans and to raise hopes the club may go farther than in 2013 when they squeaked into the playoffs in only their second Major League Soccer season.
It was main rival, Toronto FC, that stole the off-season spotlight with big money signings — Tottenham forward Jermain Defoe and U.S. international midfielder Michael Bradley.
In Montreal, management was quiet, although they hope to bring in two or three new faces before the season opens in March.
"Great for Toronto and great for the league," said Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier. "They were talking about the league in a lot of places.
"It's their eighth season so I guess for their ticket holders, they had to bring something. But now there's added-on pressure because they're going to have eyes like L.A. and New York on them for pretty much the whole season.
"But I concentrate on our team. We've got pretty much the same team and I think the organization will be looking at bringing in that extra two or three players that can bring us across the edge so we have more depth and are strong all year long."
For now, the Impact has only 22 roster players and one of them, Spanish defender Adrian Lopez, won't be ready until April after knee surgery.
Returning starters include goalkeeper Troy Perkins, central defenders Matteo Ferrari and Nelson Rivas, fullbacks Jeb Brovsky and Hassoun Camara, midfielders Bernier, Hernan Bernardello, Justin Mapp, and Felipe Martins and striker Marco Di Vaio, a 20-goal scorer.
Veteran goalie Evan Bush, midfielders Sanna Nyassi, Collen Warner and Blake Smith and forward Andrew Wenger are also back.
Klopas said he'll likely wait until after the first phase of camp to name a captain but is leaning toward assistants Bernier and Di Vaio.
The 34-year-old Bernier, of Brossard, Que., would welcome wearing the armband.
"It would be a logical next step, having been the assistant behind Davy," he said. "It would be great, coming from here, to have the captaincy and hopefully hold it for the rest of my career.
"That would be a great ending."
It's Bernier's third season with the Impact and he's on his third head coach after Jesse Marsch led the way in the team's 2012 MLS expansion season before Schallibaum arrived last year. Camara goes one farther as he has been with the Impact five years, since before they were in MLS, and has had five different coaches.
"It's part of the game," said Bernier, who spent most of his career in Europe. "This is may be my 15th coach in 13 years. It's something that happens.
"The office realizes we needed someone to bring us to another level. The decision's been made and I'm looking at 2014. I thank Marco for 2013. We had a good year."
The Impact was the talk of MLS through the first half of 2013, and not just because Schallibaum got suspended four times for sideline tantrums. They were first in the league at mid-season and had won the Amway Canadian championship, although they crashed out in the first round of CONCACAF Champions League play.
They faltered down the stretch and just made it into the fifth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They were dominated 3-0 by Houston in their only post-season game, which saw Di Vaio and Romero ejected for initiating a skirmish.
Both will be suspended for the first three games of this season.
Bernier liked what he saw of Klopas when he coached Chicago, particularly his ability to make in-game adjustments when his team was behind.
The 47-year-old Klopas hopes to get Montreal to play sounder team defence and figures the Impact has enough up front to provide goals.
He's already had dinner and a chat with Di Vaio, who will turn 38 on July 15.
"I hope to do well like I did last year," said Di Vaio. "I want to score goals. I don't know how many, but to score goals to help the team.
"Last year we did better than the year before and this year we have to try to be better. Last year we did well up to the last 10 matches, so we have to find a way to keep it going and do well through the entire season."
One newcomer was former OFI Crete defender Nikos Kounenakis, who has not officially signed as an assistant coach but is likely to do so soon. Klopas wants him to handle the defence.
"Nick played at a high level, he has a UEFA Pro license, he's played in the back line and I think he can complement the coaches we have," said Klopas, also a former Greek league player.
Also in camp are four players taken in the MLS SuperDraft, including first pick Eric Miller and forward and Edmonton native Jordan Ongaro.
Three players from the Impact's under-23 squad were also invited.