The Montréal Impact finished the 2016 season on a bit of a downer, losing in dramatic fashion to hated archrivals TFC in the Eastern Conference Finals. Still, this dismay was quickly replaced with great optimism, as if a repeat of the successes in 2016 were already a fait accompli.
With training camp having gotten underway on Tuesday, and the season opener just over a month away, I look at the team’s current roster and I’m not convinced in the least. Offensively the pieces are there, and like everyone else, I’m very excited to see newcomer Blerim Dzemaili in an Impact uniform.
But with a bunch of players who didn’t work out (Johan Venegas, Harrison Shipp, Lucas Ontivero, Donny Toia etc.,) jettisoned in the offseason, the team has not shown a willingness or interest to fill out the roster with MLS-ready players. Instead, a who’s who of FC Montréal players are being thrown into the mix during training camp to fill out the roster, or at least that’s what it looks like.
I’m all for promoting youngsters, and in my opinion, 19-20 year olds are not necessarily too young to play right away. That said, having them battle themselves (or guys who last played for the USL’s Jacksonville Armada) for roster spots is not a good enough indicator of MLS-readiness in my opinion.
The Impact currently has 4 central midfielders (Patrice Bernier, Marco Donadel, Hernan Bernadello and Calum Mallace) that are proven MLS players (Mallace, barely). 3 of those 4 players are over 30, and none of them has shown the ability to be a workhorse for a full season. Any team that sees themselves as title contenders can’t actually believe that these 4 players, along with a couple of academy graduates, will be enough to handle the grind of a long, arduous MLS season. Dzemaili will help shore up the midfield, but he will only arrive as early as June, and probably won’t start playing till July. In any event, the team is starting the season with very little depth in midfield, and if nothing changes, it will be a very taxing first few months for those players.
Things aren’t looking much better on defence. I salute Adam Braz and the scouting staff for pulling off a savvy move with the acquisition of RB Chris Duvall, the natural fullback the team had been sorely lacking. But what’s the plan at LB? Oyongo is good, but not great, and has never shown to be an outstanding defender. Donny Toia proved in 2015 that he was the much sounder of the two defensively, but somehow got lost in the shuffle in 2016, and has since been acquired by Atlanta FC.
Who will back up Oyongo? An FC Montreal player? An MLS has-been? I love the idea that one of our academy players will carve out a spot on the squad, but do we really want to be throwing a player with such little experience into a position that is so important? Remember, IMFC are coming off a season that saw them concede 53 goals (7th worst in the MLS), 9 more than a season prior. We just saw the Seattle Sounders shut out TFC through 120 minutes, after we gave up 7 goals in 210 to the same team.
If ever there was going to be sea change coming into the 2017 season, you’d think it would come from a defensive perspective, but if anything the defence looks the same or weaker. I hope like everyone else that players like Ciman and Cabrera will bounce back this season, but a bit of healthy competition in the form of a signing or 2 couldn’t hurt.
The one bright spot in this offseason has been the news that Maxime Crepeau will finally get a shot at playing serious minutes in the MLS. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from the young Quebecer in International play with Canada, and I think he has a bigger upside than Bush. Their battle for the No. 1 keeper spot could be an intriguing story throughout the year.
Overall, I understand that training camp has just begun, and there is still time to sign new players. That said, the longer they wait, the longer it will take to integrate them into the squad and find chemistry with their teammates. It’s also frustrating to see IMFC take a “small team” approach with their roster. It may have been enough in the past to assemble a decent starting 11 and throw together some scraps to fill out the roster, but in an ever-growing, ever-competitive MLS, that philosophy just won’t cut it.
If the team intends to compete for the MLS Cup every year, solid, reliable depth at every position has to be a need, not a want. As of January 26th, I see holes all over the roster. It’s simply not good enough.