Just a few days away from the start of the Impact's historic first season in MLS, media outlets near and far have released their thoughts on the team's depth chart and predictions on how well or bad the team will do. It's the same thing here but with a twist!
Being the coach of an expansion team, Jesse Marsch will go into Vancouver with an initial depth chart. However, since the team has only been playing together for a couple of months, there is no past chemistry that will help him remain confident with any one lineup or formation in order to get results. We might as well call him ‘Dr. Marsch'. He will have to mix and match his ingredients and alter his doses in order to find the right potion to defeat the opponent. The only certainty of this upcoming season is that the Impact will fight from the first to the final whistle with the same passion and intensity that Jesse had during his playing days.
STARTER: Donovan Ricketts.
His MLS experience and pedigree makes him an automatic as the team's number 1. Coming back from injury and shipped off to the expansion Impact, Ricketts must have a huge chip on his shoulder and will want to show everyone that he's still got a lot in the tank.
The only question remains... who is the backup? The answer is simple: no decision has been made. Evan Bush, the reigning NASL goalkeeper of the year, is projected to be the team's future starting keeper. However, his lack of experience in MLS means that all backup duties will be shared with MLS veteran Greg Sutton. Each goalie will get their chance throughout the season to seal their position as the number 2. Marsch will continue to evaluate the situation throughout the year. One thing is certain, the Impact boast one of the deepest goalkeeping trios in the league. Should an injury occur to Ricketts, the organization is confident that Bush/Sutton can hold down the fort.
LB: Josh Gardner (Gienir Garcia)
CB: Matteo Ferrari/Tyson Wahl (Shavar Thomas/Nelson Rivas)
RB: Zarek Valentin (Jeb Brovsky)
Despite early injury concerns to Rivas and Camara, as well as an unsettled contract negotiation with expansion draft pick Bobby Burling, the Impact's back line seems fairly set and without surprise... for now.
Matteo Ferrari, the former Italy international and surprise signing, comes into the starting XI along with Tyson Wahl, a natural LB, who has been one of the many revelations of this camp. Shavar Thomas and Hassoun Camara (who can also play defensive mid) will be the backups until Rivas' eventual return to the lineup.
With Wahl's impressive display at CB, Josh Gardner has faced little to no competition at LB. Gienir Garcia, in his first MLS season, will provide cover in case of injury or rest.
US U-23 international, fan favorite and Oreo addict Zarek Valentin has the RB position on lockdown. However, with his eventual participation in the Olympics and various other US National team camps, look for Jeb Brovsky to get his good share of minutes. Also, Marsch has used Calum Mallace at the position during camp and should be Brovsky's backup whenever Valentin is away from the squad.
The big question is: What happens when Nelson Rivas comes back from injury?
He and Ferrari were not signed to be backups. They were signed to dominate the middle. So, here comes the domino effect. Rivas at CB pushes Wahl to LB, Gardner to the bench and Garcia further down the depth chart. Gardner may get a look at RB depending on Valentin's availability and Brovsky's performance.
LM: Justin Mapp (Lamar Neagle)
CM: Patrice Bernier / Felipe Martins (Sinisa Ubiparipovic/Collen Warner/Hassoun Camara)
RM : Davy Arnaud (Sanna Nyassi)
The Impact's midfield is more congested than the Decarie during rush hour with a 10 car pileup. The coaching staff has so many options available to them. Keeping everybody happy will be extremely difficult and this could be a problem area for the front office during the season. Nick De Santis may need to move some players, via trade or loan, in order to alleviate the log jam the position.
Justin Mapp has missed some time during camp due to personal family reasons. This has cost him valuable time to gel with the rest of the midfield but Marsch will stick with the veteran for the beginning of the season. Lamar Neagle, a Seattle fan favorite, should start eating into Mapp's playing time during as the season wears on and he gets acclimated to the team. Neagle is at a disadvantage having joined the team late via trade but no one would be surprised to see him take over the position at some point in 2012. Although naturally a RM, Sanna Nyassi may see some time at LM as the Gambian international continues to grow and display his superior talent.
Local hero Patrice Bernier and the young hot shot Felipe Martins will be in charge at CM. Bernier's overseas experience and leadership is priceless to this young squad and may even challenge for newcomer of the year. Martins has dazzled everyone since the start of camp and the 21 year old has earned his shot as a starter right away. While Bernier shouldn't feel threatened to lose his starting spot at any time, Collen Warner and Sinisa Ubiparipovic will be right on the young Brazilian's tail as they try to earn as much playing time as possible. Hassoun Camara will be used more as defensive reinforcement late in games with a spot start here and there. One thing is certain, Marsch will not be shy to pull the trigger on a lineup change given the abundance of talent available to him at this position.
The RM starter's spot belongs to the one and only Davy ‘Le Capitaine' Arnaud. His leadership, combative style and forward style of play will be crucial to any success that this team will have during the season. Due to injury or rest, Sanna Nyassi will get the call to push the attack and help get the ball behind the other team's keeper.
Other midfield players/notes:
Calum Mallace - His versatility will be his greatest asset during his rookie year. He impressed early at RB. Though he won't be a starter, his game time will come more via late game replacement or on defence. Being labeled as a ‘warrior', Marsch is a fan of the youngster and he will do his best to keep Mallace's confidence sky high. Calum is definitely considered an integral part of this team's future and is already being touted as a draft day ‘steal'.
Bryan Arguez - We haven't seen much of Arguez during training camp, whether or not he's been on the field. Unable to impose himself or impress the coaching staff, he should be mainly a reserve team player who will have to put in extra work in order to be allowed to fight for minutes.
Starters: Mike Fucito / Justin Braun
The forward position is more like an episode of the Price is Right with different contestants getting their chance to win the prize of starter.
Coming to Montreal late via trade, Mike Fucito should get a good look as a starter. Fucito is known to have done a lot of the dirty work that has led to Montero's success in Seattle. A Sounders' fan favorite, he isn't afraid to get his nose dirty (which has seen him get a cult-like following with the ‘Church of Fucito'). Justin Braun will get his shot as starter and will need to impress quickly in order to keep his spot. An excellent prospect who has yet to develop into a full time MLS striker, this is Braun's chance to solidify his spot in the starting XI.
Here come the wildcards:
Eduardo Sebrango - The ageless wonder (I'm convinced that he is half man/half machine) will not be a starter. His role will be mainly as a last 30 minute game breaker. His job is also to be a mentor to:
Miguel Montano - The young hot shot is a Cristiano Ronaldo look alike who has all the talent in the world but has yet to fully develop. ‘Father time' Sebrango will help make sure that he remains grounded, works hard and becomes a consistent contributor at the MLS level. At 20 years of age, it may take a year or two before we see him unleash his full potential.
Andrew Wenger - The first overall pick. When will he get his chance to contribute? Before the school year is over? After the school year? He has a tough season ahead of him. Finishing his studies while flying back and forth to be with the team for games/practices and trying to be successful in both. Once he is with the squad full time, a partnership with Fucito could be very intriguing.
Evan James - The hard working Canadian kid may get a chance in the forward carousel although early reports are that he will spend more time with the reserve team than the first team.
Sanna Nyassi - Yes, he was discussed at midfielder. However, with the hot potato position that is the striker, mixed in with his speed and talent, Nyassi may get a shot to impress at forward. The logjam at midfielder and his emerging talent may force Marsch's hand to try him up top.
Bernardo Corradi - If he gets signed by team, he will be fighting for first team minutes. An early combination with Braun or Fucito may be on the menu. Has impressed in his only preseason game. Being a forward in MLS and in Europe are completely different. Will have to prove that he can adjust.
Future DP - Nick De Santis has stated that any DP would more than likely be a forward. This could have a domino effect on the whole team. Obviously, the DP would be an automatic starter. Depending on the success at the forward position, the formation may be kept at a 4-4-2 or changed to a 4-3-3.
It is impossible to foresee what kind of success this team will have this season. There are too many variables. Can the team make the playoffs in its first year? It's possible. It is the goal of the entire organization. The pieces are there. Add in a DP and things can really start rolling. All depends on chemistry and Marsch's ability to adapt.
My word of advice: Sit down, buckle up, stay positive and enjoy the ride. Don't forget, this is an expansion team. Make sure your expectations are realistic.
Until next time, FORZA IMPACT!