Greg Sutton entered the room, pacing his lofty stride down the steps before settling alongside Impact owner, Joey Saputo to face an appreciative media throng.
It’s been a while since the Impact’s decorated former ‘keeper was thrust into the limelight as he was this morning, but the 6ft 6in custodian didn’t appear fazed. Indeed he looked like he could still be playing, so little is the change in his appearance, even after almost 7 years away from full-time soccer. OK, so maybe he looks more relaxed.
He’d just been announced to the audience as the next inductee to the Montreal Impact Wall of Fame a quite deserving accolade after serving the the club, with whom he made his name, with such distinction.
He dealt calmly with questions, taking time to reflect on a rewarding career, adding insight to his responses. But not before he’d acknowledged several people, all whom were influences throughout his journey.
His mentions included fellow Wall of Famers, Gabriel Gervais and Nevio Pizzolito, with whom he once formed a solid back-line, other team-mates and coaches; Nick De Santis (who was both of those), Mauro Biello (also both a team-mate, then coach) who Sutton described as, ‘a perfect pro’, Mike Buretto, someone who smoothed the newcomer’s early days in the city and helped his family ‘on numerous occasions’ and of course Joey Saputo for, ‘the wonderful job he’s done taking the Impact organization forward.’
The only time you thought Sutton’s voice might waver was in concluding the thank-yous by mentioning his wife -
“I don’t get this chance very often so I want to take it and thank my wife. She’s been through a lot. Ups and downs. I’m sure she was happy when I retired in 2012, because she didn’t have to deal with me on game days [any more]. And of course, my kids.”
He nominated the 2004 Championship game as his fondest memory.
“We’d come a long way in just a few years. I remember when I was first here in 2001, there was around one or two thousand in the stadium. We were ok, but we weren’t great, and then to be able to build as quickly as we did, thanks in the most part to Joey [Saputo].”
“Then to be able to have a record crowd at Claude Robillard and put on a good show that day ... to hoist the trophy was something awesome. Memorable to me and to all of us, and something I will never forget.”
Another highlight was coming back to Montreal for the club’s first season in MLS.
“That was something that I was hoping I would be able to get the chance to do. You don’t know how long your career is going to last, but it was always something I was keeping my eye on.”
“I learned a lot going through the Toronto FC experience, so I tried to pass on some of that information to the coaches and players and give them the idea of what it’s going to take to join MLS in that first season.”
Greg had an opportunity to talk about some of the coaches that he’s learned under, including Bob Bradley when he started out with Chicago in MLS, Jesse Marsch, his last coach at the Impact, who in fact was his room-mate in those far off days in The Windy City and Nick de Santis, whom Sutton watched develop throughout that Championship year of 2004.
In talking about that 2004 team, Greg had this to say -
“I just wanted to say there were so many guys in that team that had such confidence. We would walk into the tunnel before the game and look at the other team. We knew the game was over.”
“We just had so much confidence going into certain games and you know those are the times that you remember most, because it’s enjoyable, you play with such confidence, and it’s fun, the game’s really fun then. These are the things that I’ll never forget.”
Joey Saputo added: “I think we made a nice decision in choosing Greg. It kinda’ follows after Nevio and Gabriel, defensively. If you take a look at the teams we’ve had in the past, especially the years all three played, and you talk about defence, I mean we knew when we scored a goal, the game was over, to a point where I’d get upset with our coaching staff, because we didn’t win the game by more than one goal, sometimes.”
“We wouldn’t put on the show that I thought we should be putting on with the team we had. So I think the push was more on the defensive, because that is who we were. Defensively we were extremely strong and we just wanted to continue that process.”
Goalkeepers that Sutton looked up to earlier in his career included the Manchester United pair, Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar, a Champions League winner with Juventus as well as with the Red Devils.
“Van der Sar was somebody that I kinda’ modelled my game after, a big, tall, lanky goalkeeper like me, so somebody that I watched obviously, and Peter Schmeichel ... all those guys.”
“But I think the important thing is that all the goalkeepers at all the different clubs that I’ve worked with ... I mean you can talk about a guy who is here today, Evan Bush. I learnt stuff from Evan. Even though he was a young goalkeeper and I was a veteran, I still learned from him. And I like to think that those guys did the same from me, when I was working with them.”
With the increased opportunities available for professional players in Canada and North America in general these days, did he have any regrets that he wasn’t born ten years later?
“Absolutely. I probably would’ve done a lot of things differently.”
“But you know, I don’t regret it. I think it was part of me going through this system and the soccer landscape in Canada, and it gave me the opportunity to hopefully learn and now pass along some of the knowledge that I can offer. And I have lots to offer, I believe it, and very willing and happy to help anybody who would like that help.”
“The game has evolved absolutely, and again it’s about the higher bodies, everybody must be accountable, I am accountable when I coach at college and so should they be. [It’s about] producing the results that we want in Canada.”
“I’m excited about the future of our game, my kids are playing and it’s night and day, I’m sure, from when kids 15 or 20 years ago [were playing].”
In a classy concluding touch, the subject of today’s event made a point of going around and individually shaking the hands with each of the assembled press. The pleasure, Greg, was all ours.
The latest addition to the Impact’s Wall of Fame will be honoured during half-time at Saturday evening’s home game at Stade Saputo against Minnesota United FC (TVA Sports, 98,5, TSN 690). Tickets for the game are still available.