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Butler: Rising performances and crushing heartache

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Noel Butler
11/18/2013 9:06:55 AM
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"Marco Who?" was likely trending heavily on Montreal area social media networks back on the morning of January 6.

Just as Montreal was settling into the first full working week of a new year, the Impact announced the appointment of their new head coach.

An ex-player of some maverick type repute, upon retiring Marco Schällibaum settled into coaching. Well, sort of. Managing six clubs in about half of the time the Impact have existed for.

The new head coach did not have to wait long though to meet up with his new charges. Medicals and training camp was only a fortnight away.

With Marco Di Vaio arriving into Montreal around the same time as Schällibaum and well ahead of his teammates so as to ensure his fitness to begin the campaign was at the best possible levels - we got our first hint a strong theme of training camp was to be fitness over football.

In 2012, the Impact gave up points way too easily, way too often in the closing stages of games, killing off opponents the most worrisome trend of that inaugural campaign.

2013's training camps' other theme was an over emphasis on team bonding. Schällibaum was onto something. He must have got something right did the new dug out general.

Just over a month after kicking the first ball in anger over at the Impact's Marie-Victorin training complex, the Impact would pick up the first of two pieces of scarce silverware.

The annual rite of MLS pre-season, the Disney Pro Soccer Classic down in Orlando. With Justin Mapp registering the winner against the Crew.

A player released and re-signed for less money in the off season, it was the perfect response to the adversity of 2012. A harbinger for good things to come for the native Mississippian who knew he needed to convince and compel management immediately if he held any designs on a regular starting role.

The Impact backed up the Orlando statement of intention by getting off to that flyer with back to back wins in two of the most battle-scarred, road-weary stadiums in all of MLS. Seattle and Portland do not give up points easily. They are earned the old fashioned way.

Spring would see almost everything coming up roses in the Olympic Stadium and Stade Saputo football gardens. By May's end a decond trophy.

Toronto disposed of as Canadian Champions finally, the Impact yet again spoiling Vancouver Voyageurs Cup dreams courtesy of a late Camara equalizer.

With little or no time to properly celebrate another trophy the club clambered aboard a flight direct to Kansas.  Less than 72 hours later the Impact stole three points at Sporting Park. A Trophy and three more valuable MLS road points were checked at customs at arrival back in la belle ville.

Up to that juncture, the Impact went about their craft; collecting points for fun winning eight of their 12 league matches to date. Having their 20th anniversary cake and eating it they most certainly were.

Playing the best football by far by any team in the league - not so much winning matches but playing an expressive and expansive type game and 1 which was completely unrecognisable from your typical 90 MLS minutes

On the beautiful game ledger during the middle of May, the Impact pulverized elite MLS crème in the formidable shape of RSL, and those Union pretenders. Eight goals, six points - move along please.

The early June International break could not have been better timed following June 1's Sporting KC victory. Time to rest some very well deserved tiring legs and aching limbs over a late spring soccer sojourn for the club.

However, when we look back now it was at this exact point 'Bad Impact' reared its ugly head for a very first time

Something happened. Let there be no doubt.

Had thought of extensive travel the dreaded gruel of a Champions League Group stage turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Almost exactly two months removed from KC ecstasy and following the August 3 wholly embarrassing 3-1 tanking in DC, the tale of that tape read nine matches played a meagre nine point return.

The Impact's lofty 2.25 points per game average replaced by a points-per-game average over a two month period that gets you relegation every season in the Barclays Premier League.

The Impact's culture had undergone a football face lift.

Fortunately, the Impact did not melt under the summer heat of August as they blazed a trail. 'Good Impact' pressing its claim as best in the league come the Labour Day weekend point.

Between then and Thanksgiving weekend the players, the entire club itself may as well have withdrawn their labour.

Hardly a football harvest was to follow.

Tissot's late game equalizer in Chicago alongside a late game winner in the penultimate game of the regular season from Ouimette, another Impact Academy product was all the club had to show for itself during the run in. Just as all other clubs around them raised performances at the most critical juncture of the season.

No one could have imagined following the four goal smashing of the Revs in Foxboro on September 8 that on the very last day of the regular season the club would have to rely on others to reach the playoff promised land.

Then by the tiniest of goal difference margins sporting identical regular season records the Impact stole a march on the Fire. Houston beckoned four days later.

The inquest and finger pointing is well underway as the club now attempt to come to terms with why over the course of the season such unimagined possibilities at the start of the year turned into fall time shortest of playoff coffees.

Let it all though be put into a proper and clearer context. In 1 season the club had transformed itself both on and off the pitch. 

Not only was Stade Saputo full to overflowing match after match to watch MDV weave his magic on hapless defenders doing their very best impressions of Montreal's infamous pylons - the vibrancy of a true football matchday atmosphere has begun taking genuine shape down Olympic Park way.

Football sophistication very much the order of the day.

The most magical moment of the season happening for me wasn't another counter attack clinic with the ball ending up in the back of the net from the tightest of rational angles. Instead, it was one summer's evening when closing my eyes and drifting back to a point in time that begun early in childhood.

Next time you attend Saputo Stadium. Close your eyes to the action. Don't worry you won't miss any of the action. Allow that wall of sound, football's own unique language, commentate you through the action.

An exact type sound we all heard earlier today during the first legs of Brazil 2014 Playoff action across Europe.

The playoffs and new football meeting old football - a successful season by any stretch of the imagination.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at: Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca @TheSoccerNoel

Marco Schallibaum (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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