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International Ambitions: Why Friendlies Matter

Montréal is an International City. Are the Impact an International Brand?

Impact vs Roma
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Montréal, and l’Impact de Montréal, offer a unique opportunity for international soccer teams. In both friendly matches, and CONCACAF Champions League, l’Impact have consistently drawn big crowds for international games that have raised the profile of the team, and drawn international attention to both the Impact brand, and their challenger.

Montréal has always known how to get big stars. Between Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta and Didier Drogba, the Impact have consistently drawn attention to themselves internationally for their ability to land talented individuals who want to contribute to the established soccer culture here in Québec. Part of that notoriety stems from an impressive international record, and a unique linguistic and cultural environment that separates Montréal from the rest of MLS. It is this internationalism that Montréal should embrace, in the form of international friendly matches, to enhance the already formidable reputation that the Impact possesses. Indeed, if Didier Drogba was inspired to come to Montréal in part because of the impressive performance of the Impact in the CONCACAF Champions League, imagine what stars would come to Montréal if they possess a broader international pedigree.

However, what teams would draw a crowd? What teams could the Impact play that would give us the pedigree to land a star, generate substantial off-season revenue, and increase brand recognition? Below, we offer four possibilities for future international friendly matches.

A Shared Linguistic Heritage

Montréal is not alone in North America as the only Francophone team. Indeed, several other clubs from the Caribbean Francophonie regularly participate in the CONCACAF Champions League. Don Bosco, Tempête and Violette from Haiti, have all recently participated in the CONCACAF Champions’ League group stages, and have had good form in the Caribbean Football Union club championship. Haiti is not alone in the American Francophonie, with professional soccer clubs also located in Guyane française, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Saint Vincent, and Martinique. While only Haiti has clubs that could possibly challenge the Impact, each of these nations have sizable expatriate communities in Montréal, and could potentially draw a sizable crowd to a game featuring FC Montréal and a club from their respective country. The Impact tried this against the Haitians in 2013, with the U-21 side, with some success. That being said, with a large Haitian community in Montréal, and the relative success of the Impact in the Champions League, the Impact should consider exploring options for an international friendly – perhaps in pre-season – against a club from Haiti. It could be a revenue generator for the Impact in what would otherwise be the off-season, and could offer unique scouting opportunities for unexposed talent in the region.

Pre-Existing European Connections

While the Caribbean link is certainly a unique opportunity for the Impact, the biggest draw will naturally be larger European clubs. In 2012, the Impact drew 19,000 people to a game with French heavyweights Olympique Lyonnais. More recently, the Impact drew close to 21,000 spectators to a match against Roma, the Italian giants. The Impact now have (or should have) pre-existing relationships forged with these two clubs, along with a direct link to Bologna, in which Impact owner Joey Saputo is heavily involved. These clubs are high quality clubs in European top flights. Developing a tradition of friendly matches against any of these three clubs would be a revenue generator for both franchises, and would allow the Impact to further its branding initiatives at the international level.

Old Friends from Down South

The highlight of the 2015 season was the performance of the Impact in the Champions League. While playing in Mexico, the Impact played several friendlies against Cruz Azul’s academy, and often senior players. Additionally, the Impact played both CD Pachuca, and Club América in Champions League play. The Impact also have a history of both victory and defeat against Mexican giants, Santos Laguna. The Impact are known as a club that can get results in Mexico, at least by their own fans. Outside of MLS, the Impact have played more games against Mexican teams than against all other CONCACAF competitors combined. Clubs in the Mexican top flight, Liga MX, are easily a cut above most MLS teams, and often benefit from stars that participate in the highest level of international play. Luring a Mexican club to Montréal for an international friendly would easily draw a crowd, and increase the brand recognition of the Impact in Mexico.

Destination: Paris of the Pampas

Between Ignacio Piatti, Hernan Bernardello and Lucas Ontivero, the Impact are no stranger to signing Argentinians. The Impact front office, from Adam Braz, Nick de Santis and Joey Saputo himself, make no secret of their Argentinian connections. If the Impact are interested in further developing a pipeline of Argentinian talent, than why not invite a first division Argentinian club to Montréal for a match? This would further expose the Impact as a credible destination to Argentinian players in the market, and become a revenue tool for the Impact as well. After all, Argentinian clubs regularly feature in high calibre international tournaments, from Copa Libertadores to the Club World Cup. Being associated with those clubs, even in a friendly, is brand recognition from which the Impact could benefit.

After all, whether playing Argentinians, Mexicans or Haitians, the mission of l’Impact de Montréal is to give people a good show. What better way to do that than by celebrating our international connections through sport, with continental rivals, old friends and European heavyweights?