TURIN, ITALY - MARCH 05: Milos Krasic of Juventus FC is challenged by Alessandro Nesta of AC Milan during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AC Milan at Olimpico Stadium on March 5, 2011 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Alessandro Nesta, come on down!
You are the next contestant on Italians with the Impact!
Joey Saputo has done it again. Against all odds, he is bringing another big name to the Montreal Impact. This time, it's not just any name. It's Alessandro Nesta of AC Milan. He's not just any other defender. He's the best centre back of his generation. At 36 years of age, Nesta has finally decided to join the Impact after a deal reportedly fell through at the last minute with the New York Red Bulls and rumored limited talks with TFC. He comes to the MLS and instantly becomes the best centre back in the league... when healthy.
While there are questions about his durability, you simply cannot pass up an opportunity to sign a player of this caliber. He is injury prone but he is a great player. Kudos to Joey Saputo for taking the risk and getting the deal done. Want to question the decision? That is fine, but ask yourself this.. What if he stays healthy? Would you really want the Impact forwards playing AGAINST him? Also, Sidney Crosby is a concussion away from retirement yet the Penguins did not hesitate to sign him to a 12 year deal. Nesta's deal is 18 months.
Once everyone will be back to full strength, Jesse Marsch will be armed with 5 quality centre backs on his defensive line. No one in the MLS can deny that Nesta, Matteo Ferrari, Nelson Rivas, Shavar Thomas and Hassoun Camara form the deepest CB core in the league.
Question is: What do you do with all that talent? Two options present themselves:
More after the jump
OPTION 1: The 3-5-2
Potential starting lineup:
Nesta - Rivas - Ferrari
Bernier - Camara
Di Vaio - Wenger
With the 3-5-2, Marsch would be able to deploy his top 3 centre backs at the same time, removing any battle for minutes and putting an incredible amount of talent and experience in front of the goalkeeper. Combined, they would be as good or better as any 4 man back line in the MLS.
In front of that talented trio, workhorse Patrice Bernier can be inserted for defensive support and to take control of the midfield. Hassoun Camara, who is a fantastic ball distributor, could join Bernier to help create quick turnovers and launch the counter attacks.
On the wings is where the competition really starts to heat up. The first obvious choice would be the Captain and warrior Davy Arnaud. On the other side, you could start off with Justin Mapp. The biggest question would be Mapp's fitness as this formation requires to the wingers to give it all they got on offense and defense. No slacking is tolerated. When Mapp is in need of a rest, Lamar Neagle could come in and replace him. In fact, this formation would help Neagle in his development as he would enjoy the extra space that would be allotted to him. He could become dominant if he used his size and speed to its full potential. Another option could be Sanna Nyassi. Since he is not a true striker, Nyassi would be able to use his speed and ball control to attract defenders, taking pressure off the forwards and allowing them to be more creative heading towards the opposing goal.
Midfield maestro Felipe would play just behind forwards Andrew Wenger and Marco Di Vaio. With the wingers stretching out the defense, Felipe should be free to create more plays for his forwards and perhaps find space to unleash a shot from distance from time to time.
A healthy Andrew Wenger is the key to a productive Marco Di Vaio. As great as MDV can be, he will need space to operate. As shown in his first couple of appearances, as the lone man up top and with a lack of support, Di Vaio becomes the main focus of the defense and essentially gets removed from the game.
As great as this formation can be to create offense, keep opposing defenses honest and dazzling the fans, there are a few issues:
1. Health: This formation can only be used when all the main players are HEALTHY and PLAYING! If one of Tyson Wahl, Shavar Thomas or Zarek Valentin are to be your starting centre backs, this formation should not be used. The Impact have the talent but not the depth to succeed with this formation.
2. Player development: With this type of formation, you need to lean on your most experienced players which means that the likes of Collen Warner, Zarek Valentin and Jeb Brovsky immediately take a spot on the bench.
3. Discipline: Everyone must know their role in this formation. You cannot be caught daydreaming or out of position, especially on defense. Every player must think 2-3 passes ahead of the current play and make sure that each teammate is covered in case of a mistake.
4. Coaching experience: Will Jesse Marsch take the ‘go big or go home' approach and implement this formation? It takes a certain cold blooded tactician to pull this off. While Marsch is developing and becoming a good MLS coach, I simply don't know if he is ready for this formation just yet..
OPTION 2: Centre back musical chairs
I will be the first to admit that the 3-5-2 may too a farfetched dream from this Juventino writer. Too many factors work against it. However, Alessandro Nesta joining the Impact could allow for an interesting option for Jesse Marsch.
First, take the following into account:
- Nelson Rivas started the season injured, came back to play and got hurt again.
- Matteo Ferrari is rehabbing a bad injury and needs to be cautious the rest of the way.
- Alessandro Nesta's medical file is so big that AC Milan had to ship it to Canada in its own container, by boat (just kidding, but I am exaggerating to prove a point... no Twitter attacks please!).
That makes for a legendary MLS centre back trio... made of glass! How do you protect your trio and get the most out of them? You play a little game of musical centre back chairs.
If Jesse Marsch decides to remain with his 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 formation, he could rotate his centre backs allowing each one to play 2 out of every 3 games. The centre back on rest would not even be available as a substitution, unless it is a crucial game to get into the playoffs or unless it is a postseason game. This would allow each centre back to get plenty of minutes as well as an extended break to recover without hurting the defensive quality on the team. Also, by having 2 of the 3 in the lineup for each game, it would allow Jesse Marsch to give Shavar Thomas minutes in the event of an injury or when wanting to give a break to one of the players during the game. Camara would also be available to play in a midfield role or emergency centre back role. Everybody stays happy.
This option may be the most logical and safe option. Marsch wouldn't have to implement a new system. The players will continue to learn within the 4-4-2. Zarek Valentin and Jeb Brovsky will not see their minutes get reduced nor will their development be cut short.
No more safety net for Jesse Marsch
Joey Saputo and Nick De Santis hired Jesse Marsch. A young, up & coming and strong prospect within the US coaching ranks, they decided that he was the best choice to lead and mould this group of men into a winning team. Given his inexperience and the fact that this is an expansion team, it was expected that Marsch would be given a long leash so that he could operate without having to worry about his job security. However, in a city thirsty for championships and with an owner wanting to be successful right away, that leash may be shortening by the day.
Expectations started low. They began with just needing to be competitive and trying to win more than they lose and if they were to make the playoffs, it would be a huge bonus. Through the early stages of the season, with the rollercoaster of performances and tough losses, some began to wonder if Jesse Marsch was going to be on the chopping block sooner rather than later. Concerns were quickly put to rest as it was clear that De Santis and Saputo were confident that they still had the right man in place.
However, as the season as progressed, the expectations begun to change as well. With the addition of Corradi, Ferrari and the emergence of Felipe early on mixed in with improved play and belonging to the MLS' weaker conference, the playoffs became more and more of a possibility in the eyes of upper management and fans. The leash got shorter.
Now that Marco Di Vaio has joined the team and Alessandro Nesta will soon at Marsch's disposal, the pressure has just gone up a few more levels. The leash just became a choker.
Although Jesse Marsch has made his mistakes, he is still showing a lot of promise. He has the making of being a great coach in the MLS, however, one has to believe that it is now playoffs or bust for Jesse Marsch and the Impact. Joey Saputo and Nick De Santis have done all they can to bring in as much talent as possible and with the current crop of players, anything short of the playoffs can now be considered a disappointment. His only saving grace may be the injury but even that may not be enough if the Impact are not invited to the post season dance.
I, for one, have been a big fan of Jesse's since his hiring. Is he perfect? No. Is he learning? Yes. Would I like to see him at the helm for more than a year? Of course. In my mind, he deserves to be judged on his performance over at least 2-3 years as he moulds this team his way. But, this is a business and a very cold one at that. With the talent at his disposal, his only choice is to, as the song goes: ‘All I do is win, win, win... no matter what!'
Until next time friends,