If there’s one payer I could have chosen to watch week in, week out, in MLS it was Ignacio Alberto Piatti.
I feel fortunate.
Yes, there was always the argument suggesting the star-player’s wages could be better deployed to help the team, and I get that, but watching LIVE, in the flesh, seldom has a player provided so much excitement, so much pleasure.
He put bums on Stade Saputo seats, and frequently lifted them off those seats again!
He was a difference maker, he made an impact. Some would say... he was the Impact.
Yesterday, amidst barely any fanfare, his retirement from playing was announced, his last act, 90 minutes on the bench for Racing Club of Buenos Aires in the final league game of the season, a 2-1 win over Godoy Cruz, one of the former clubs of Hernan Bernardello.
Piatti’s last playing contribution came at the end of last month, subbing on for the last 20 minutes with Racing three-down to River Plate at Estadio Monumental. They would eventually lose 4-0. At least the setting, host venue when Argentina won the World Cup in 1978, was apt.
Piatti’s last start came at the end of September, another defeat, this time 0-2 at Argentinos Juniors’ Estadio Diego Armando Maradona, renamed several years ago in honour of the country’s favourite son, who made his professional debut there as a 16-year-old. Piatti played for the first hour of the game.
His playing time in Argentina since leaving Montreal in 2019, was inconsistent. Similarly reports on the former Montreal star weren’t always easy to find, but perhaps that knee injury suffered at Orlando Stadium in early 2019 became a recurring issue. It certainly robbed Montreal fans of another year of Piatti at a time when he still produced the goods.
Upon his 2014 arrival in Montreal, I wasn’t all that excited. The name ‘Piatti’ not on my radar. How could he be any good, never heard of him...?
Nick Di Santis went on record, “His strengths are his ability to score important goals, his hunger to score goals, his ability to put defences on their heels, his ability to strike the ball with the right foot or the left. He gets in a good attacking positions inside the 18-yard box, and he’s a two-way player.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah... all marketing talk, here we go again!
But Nick Di Santis was right, he'd got this one absolutely spot-on, his finest piece of work for Montreal Impact.
It didn’t take all that long for me to alter my thoughts, 54 minutes of action against Chicago Fire to be precise. On the day, Piatti was replaced by fellow-countryman Andres Romero, but the promise was already evident.
Four goals and two assists on his next five appearances solidified first impressions. I recall enthusiastically texting a Belfast friend from one of those games, an ex-Whitecap, now living in the Big Apple. His response was swift, curt and dismissive, “Ah just another flash-in-the-pan fancy Dan, looking for a last pay-day, he’ll be good for a few games then flop.”
Of course David couldn’t have been more wrong. An informed and knowledgeable aficionado he is too. How could neither of us have never heard of this Piatti guy?
The rest is history of course. We all know the story. Piatti scored goals for fun and great goals at that, tremendous individual efforts. He exuded brilliance. On dull days at Stade Saputo with events on the field simply mundane, there was always Nacho. More often than not he’d light the afternoon up. If it was already bright, he made it shine.
Having been brought up watching George Best in my formative years, I loved this type of player. Still do and there aren’t enough of them around. He wasn’t George, I don’t mean to compare - it wouldn’t be fair - but he was luxury, full of deft touches and outrageous skill, and unlike so many flashy players these days, he delivered and consistently so.
Piatti tormented Andrew Farrell one Saturday afternoon at Stade Saputo so much I felt bad for the New England man. He simply had no answer and must have rued getting out of bed that morning. Brad Friedel had detailed the American to take care of Piatti, defending on the right side.
Had the dual between the two men been a boxing contest, it would’ve been stopped. To steal Paddy Crerand, an old favourite player’s phrase when once talking about the afore-mentioned Best, Piatti gave Farrell twisted blood that day.
Our Argentinian delivered a hat-trick of assists during Farrell’s nightmare and scored the ‘icing’ fourth goal himself. It was as good and as an exhilarating a display as you’d wish to see. OK, so New England weren’t great, but Piatti was irresistible.
He sparkled in games against the old enemy Toronto too, getting on the scoresheet 8 times, the best of which his last, a rasping drive form distance in the Canadian Championship final of 2019.
A private family man, close to those who raised him and help hone his skills, no-one will forget Piatti raising his shirt to reveal a tribute to his late grandfather, his first coach, upon scoring in the Azteca.
It’s a shame Montreal fell at the final CONCACAF Champions League hurdle. It would’ve given Piatti a coveted continental double, having won the even more prestigious Libertadores Cup with San Lorenzo the previous year.
It wasn’t to be however. After that memorable 1-1 draw in Mexico City, the Impact couldn’t quite get the job done at Stade Olimpique. Piatti had to remain content with a goal and two assists, a part in each of the goals his side scored across the two legs against Club America.
It was the family element and a desire to return home with young children that finally saw Piatti return to Buenos Aires in 2019. Sadly his exit was not a smooth one, Piatti unexpectedly failing to show at the end of the club’s season post-mortem with all the media present.
It was embarrassing for the club which on the day, struggled to find words of explanation.
This wasn’t typical of the man. Whatever happened that day he obviously wasn’t in the right frame of mind to face the media throng.
Similarly in his last Impact match against the Red Bulls, upon being substituted Piatti appeared to wave good-bye to Montreal and the fans, as he departed the arena.
No-one was sure. The crowd still offered its acclaim, but didn’t know if they were applauding since it was the last home game and they were glad to have him back from injury, or whether this really was good-bye.
It turned out to be the latter. Poorly managed. In the aftermath, fans were left feeling empty. Their star player, someone who had magically lifted their spirits for half a decade left under a cloud of disappointment.
Managed properly it shouldn’t have been like this. Piatti and the fans deserved an appropriate send-off. The whole messy episode still lacks closure.
Over to you CF Montreal.... Let’s square the circle now he’s hung up the boots....
Statistics can be a little inconsistent in Argentinian football, the following figures are as accurate as we possibly know.
Nacho Piatti scored 119 career goals (plus 55 recorded assists) in 428 first-class appearances for 8 clubs across 4 countries; Chacarita Juniors (ARG), St-Etienne (FRA), Gimnasia La Plata (ARG), Independiente (ARG), Lecce (ITA), San Lorenzo (ARG), Montreal Impact (CAN), Racing Club (ARG).
He won the Libertadores Cup, Argentinian Primera Inicial Championship and Canadian Championship.
Individually he was an MLS All-star 3 times, selected to the MLS Best XI twice, won 4 successive Montreal Impact MVP awards, was club top-scorer three years in succession, top scorer in the Canadian Championship (2019) and was awarded Canadian Championship MVP the same year.
He remains Montreal’s record goalscorer (MLS-era) with 79 goals (all comps) and leads assist with 43 (all comps). He sits third on 135 MLS appearances behind Evan Bush and Patrice Bernier, although he is the outfield player with most MLS starts (130) for the club.