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The Impact Diaspora

Former Impact players have transcended the globe.

Montreal Impact v Vancouver Whitecaps
Popular full-back, Ambroise Oyongo, just one member of the Impact Old Boy network, now plying his trade on foreign fields.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Andy Mitten, a well-reputed, Barcelona-based, football-writer friend of mine sent me a text a few months ago. Do you know a player called Issey Nakajima-Farran?

I told him yes, he was known to me. “Used to play for the Impact, Toronto FC and was a Canadian international etc ... “

Andy said, “Yeah, he turned up to play for my Sunday Morning League team in Barcelona. Said he’d played a bit in Canada, Europe, Australia, Asia and a few other places besides.”

It got me thinking and wondering how many ex-Impact players are out there somewhere and still playing pro-football.

In fact, Nakajima-Farran, he’s just signed for Pacific FC in the new Canadian Premier League, is just one of at least 45. I say ‘at least’ because there are some whose careers are no longer easily traceable, that I have assumed to be retired. But my list is very close to accurate.

A-League Rd 24 - Newcastle v Brisbane
Issey Nakajima-Farran in the colours of Brisbane Roar.
Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Not included are the likes of Michael Salazar, Miguel Montano, Victor Ndiaye, Mamadou Danso, Collen Warner, Jack McInerney and Mike Petrasso, all club-less currently but still young enough to continue their careers. Each were in fact contracted to a club in 2018. Adding them in would take the ex-Impact spread past the half-century.

So where do the most of them ply their trade these days?

Well, not surprisingly MLS and USL figure prominently with 13 apiece. The embryonic Canadian Premier League gets in there too. As well as Nakajima-Farran, there’s Kyle Bekker, who’ll be lining out for Forge FC.

But other leagues further afield are represented, adding to the truly international spice that flavours Major League Soccer. Leagues in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Italy, France, Malaysia, Paraguay, Spain, Switzerland, Albania and Uruguay all get in on the act of hiring former Impact playing personnel.

In fact last midweek there was a Libertadores Cup tie in which two former Impact players faced off against each other: Alejandro Silva’s Olimpia Ascunsion played out a scoreless stalemate with Hernan Bernardello’s Godoy Cruz at the latter’s Estadio Malvinas. Silva played the full game for the Paraguayans, Bernardello was a late sub for the Argentine Superliga side.

Godoy Cruz v Club Olimpia - Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores
Mendoza, Argentina: Hernan Bernardello in action for Godoy Cruz last week against Alejandro Silva’s Olimpia.
Photo by Axel Lloret/Getty Images
Godoy Cruz v Club Olimpia - Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores
Alejandro Silva in action in the same match.
Photo by Axel Lloret/Getty Images

Also in South America at the weekend we had loanee Jeisson Vargas making his first appearance for Universidad Catolica. His introduction in the 62nd minute proved effective. Vargas laid on the winning goal for Carlos Lobos three minutes from time, defeating Union La Calera 1-0. Previously, Union had a 100% record after three championship games.

In Serie A at the weekend, former midfielder, Blerim Dzemaili captained struggling Bologna to their first home win in over 5 months v Cagliari (2-0), while ex-strikers Daniele Paponi and Matteo Mancuso, both looking good for promotion with their respective Serie C clubs were each on target. Paponi’s Juve Stabia remain unbeaten after 28 league games in Girone C, and Mancosu’s Virtus Entella top the Girone A table.

Another in Italy at Foggia, in Serie B, is Romanian, Deian Boldor, the first man in history ever to be dismissed at Stade Saputo following a VAR review. This most recent weekend he sat on the bench as his team lost 0-1 at Lecce, who included Matteo Mancuso’s brother, Marco in their midfield. Nothing like keeping it in the family!

Boldor has not been enjoying much game time since he left Montreal and indeed his time at Foggia is a loan move from Hellas Verona.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact
Deian Boldor, seen here taking the yellow card that would become red upon VAR review, after fouling Chicago’s Bastien Schweinsteiger. His stay in Quebec was short-lived before returning to Italy.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Jean-Yves Ballou Tabla is finding it difficult to get game time too, at Albacete, as Quesa Mecanico (owned by Andres Iniesta) chase promotion from Spain’s Segunda Division. In three squad selections, he’s been on the field for 12 mins, in a 0-1 defeat at Cadiz, and this most recent weekend did not feature in the match-day panel.

Also in Spain, Adrian Lopez (Piscu) is battling away for promotion with Compostela in the Tercera Division.

It’s not only in the Libertadores Cup where former players might meet. The Malaysian Premier League provides a similar platform for Lucas Ontivero (Johor Darul Ta’zim II) and Sanna Nyassi (Pulau Pinang). Despite it’s name, the Premier League is the second tier in Malaysia, below the Super League.

Switzerland is also represented amongst our diaspora, with former full-back Dennis Iapichino starring at left-back for Servette Geneva who lead the Challenge League (second tier). The 28-year-old scored his first league goal in two years recently in a 3-0 defeat of Kriens. Not so far away in France, is Ambroise Oyongo (Montpellier), featured in this column not so very long ago on the evening he was entertained (if that’s the right word) at Parc des Princes by one, Kylian Mbappe.

Former wide man, Johan Venegas has gone native after spells here in Montreal and in Minnesota, returning to his Costa Rica homeland and enjoying a good run with Deportivo Saprissa. He’s top of the league and banging in goals at an impressive rate, but wasn’t able to rescue his team from elimination from the CONCACAF Champions League by Tigres UNAL despite scoring the winning goal in the first-leg of their last sixteen tie.

Soccer: FIFA World Cup Qualifier-Costa Rica at USA
Costa Rican international, Johan Venegas, now back in his homeland with Deportivo Saprissa.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Possibly the strangest place for any of our former players to find himself in is the Albanian Superliga, where Dilly Duka plays for Champions-elect, Partizani Tirana. The traditional powerhouse is 16 points clear with 12 games to play. Perhaps Duka’s decision to go play there is not as strange as it seems. He’s sure to get a winners’ medal, and well, it’s getting back to his roots. Duka was born in Montville, New Jersey into an ethnic-Albanian family from Debar, a city in Macedonia with an Albanian majority, near the border which separates the two states.

If football’s not THE WORLD GAME after that Impact-inspired, geographical spread, I’m not quite sure which sport is ...