What can we expect from our homegrown players in 2016? The truth is, the sky is the limit for these guys. They are all young enough that not a single one is in the prime of their careers yet, and almost all of them are on the radar of head coach Mauro Biello for playing time with the senior Montreal Impact squad. Many more are on the radar of National Team coach Benito Floro, where they may see playing time against powerful CONCACAF sides Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, and European bantamweight Albania.
Most Impact academy grads and homegrown products are in a position to see an increase in playing time this year. That's great for Montréal, and soccer in the province in general. We all love a hometown hero. Let's examine what could happen for each of our local players in the 2016 season.
In February, Crépeau earned his first significant cap with the Canadian Men's National Team, playing the full 90 minutes against one of the best teams in the North American confederation. While Canada would lose to the United States 1-0, Crépeau made many important saves and demonstrated that he has what it takes to rise beyond the position of keeper with FC Montréal. The problem is that Evan Bush and Eric Kronberg are the 1st and 2nd string keepers with the Impact - and both are very good at their job. Crépeau will therefore probably spend the 2016 season with FC Montréal. Additionally, he will be competing against Milan Borjan and Kenny Stamatopoulos for minutes with the national team, both of whom are playing in Europe at a more competitive level than Crépeau.
Regular readers of this website will know that I have a penchant for talking about Tissot. It's because I believe he will one day develop into a major asset for the Impact, he scores impressive goals and he is (most importantly) from Gatineau. In 2015 Tissot saw limited minutes, despite bagging himself a major goal along the way. He regularly played as a substitute, coming on to be an effective player along the left wing. However, with Ambroise Oyongo occupying a slot at left-back, and Ignacio Piatti playing along the left-wing, Tissot will be hard pressed to find playing time with the 2016 squad. Playing time with the National Team, and having another great performance there, may augment demand for his time with the Impact, but he will face steep competition all along the left flank from other players with more experience. Due to the formations Mauro Biello uses, it is inevitable that a player of Tissot's calibre will see time on the pitch, the only question is how much? In 2014 and 2015, Tissot earned himself 7 starts per season. Hopefully, 2016 be the season in which he shows his worth as a more important member of the Impact attack.
Of all the homegrown players the Impact have produced, none show as much promise as this young striker. Having played less than 300 minutes in the MLS in 2 seasons, Jackson-Hamel has fired off 6 shots, and has shown he knows how to exploit an MLS defence. He has a keen awareness of the ball when he is in the box, and knows how to play the ball quickly. Despite being a part of the Impact in 2015, he was loaned to FC Montréal for much of the later season, where he scored 2 goals in limited playing time. In Mauro Biello's 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 hybrid system, Didier Drogba will certainly be sitting out some matches due to rotation, providing ample opportunity for Jackson-Hamel to step-up and prove himself in an MLS setting. He is really only facing competition from Cameron Porter for minutes as top-striker, especially since Mauro Biello seems content to play Dominic Oduro as a winger. Even limited playing time would allow Jackson-Hamel to develop further and hone his skills.
Alright, full disclosure. I live in a Francophone suburb of Ottawa, and made it in to see a few NASL games at Place TD last season. Gagnon-Laparé played extraordinarily in the midfield of what was arguably an incredible 2nd division squad. Despite being in Ottawa for only a handful of games, he played well in the playoffs and created chances for Ottawa's dynamic and creative attack, while improving his defensive awareness. He still lacks deep defensive instincts, and prefers to be more creative on the ball going forward, but is a technically gifted player. If anything, with the defensive awareness of the team, his creativity in the midfield might make him a major asset alongside a veteran like Bernier or Donadel. With the departure of Nigel Reo-Coker, Gagnon-Laparé will be in competition with Kyle Bekker, Patrice Bernier and Calum Mallace for a position in the midfield beside Marco Donadel. Once again, Gagnon-Laparé may look to a performance with the national team to convince Mauro Biello to give him a chance to play. Alternatively, he may seek a loan once again, even though I firmly believe he is more than capable of breaking into the Impact starting XI in 2016, at least as a regular substitute.
A fantastic midfielder for his age, he is trapped by a Montréal Impact squad that is heavy on very talented international midfielders. In a squad with names like Ignacio Piatti, Johan Venegas, Andres Romero and Harry Shipp, he will probably be content to spend the entire season with FC Montréal. He will be a fantastic player, and will almost certainly crack the Impact starting XI in the next few seasons. However, I don't think it is reasonable to expect that outcome in 2016. The Impact roster is, for once, simply too deep. Honestly, he may even wish to consider a loan (preferably to Ottawa) this year to keep himself on the radar and get some playing time outside of the reserve system.
Wandoo is probably the academy product that will see the most playing time this year. I have written previously that I believe he will be given the nod by Mauro Biello to start ahead of Victor Cabrera as a central defender, and now I will have to explain why. Firstly, Ciman likes to be physical on the ball. It often earns him a card, or a foul, and has more than once cost us a goal (ahem, Pachuca). Wandoo is a physical compliment to Ciman, as this blog has articulated on numerous occasions. By spreading the physical play around between two players, it lessens the likelihood that one player will have to make a more dangerous defensive play. Wandoo has shown he has the right blend of physical power and technical skill to take on superstars in the MLS as well, proving in no uncertain terms that he is the central defender to take on Sebastian Giovinco. Lastly, Laurent Ciman is the defensive superstar of the MLS. Mauro Biello's decision on who to start as a central defender may ultimately rest on who Ciman wants to work with that day.