As the Montreal Impact's 11th hour - but ultimately unfruitful - challenge for an NASL playoff spot was unfolding all the while and behind the scenes the football brain trust led by head coach Jesse Marsch was sowing the club's MLS seeds. Appointed back on August 10, Marsch has been keeping an eye on the NASL squad whilst his other was firmly fixed on assembling an MLS-caliber team and identifying the technical staff.
MLS's 19th franchise is now in the midst of a week long evaluation camp that will culminate in an intra squad match Saturday morning. Next up, and especially so when factoring in that many players in camp are long term servants of the club, will come some tough decisions. Their wait won't be long though. Marsch telling TSN 990 Radio, "We're going to try and give an indication to most guys soon thereafter. So early in the week we'll have some meetings. Some guys have to travel right away Saturday, so we'll have to catch up with them through the week. They'll be some discussions that will be, yes let's figure out a way to move forward. Then they'll be some that will be no but thanks for everything but we think it's probably best at this moment that we each find our own paths."
That uncertainty for those in camp applies for all but one of the players. 28-year old Colombian Nelson Rivas who on Monday became the first player contracted to Impact Montréal FC. His signing taken after long and careful consideration with Marsch disclosing, "When I first spoke to the Impact back in April part of the discussion of the job and moving forward with the team, also involved certain players that were on their radar. When they spoke about Nelson I was aware of him from just following world football and knew about him."
Rivas will be hoping to emulate fellow countrymen like MLS Cup winner and All-Star defender Jamison Olave and playmaker extraordinaire, David Ferreira, the league's current MVP. The rising stock of Colombian players isn't lost on Marsch who offered this summation, "I think first of all they are used to the physicality of MLS because it is something that is a big part of the league in Colombia. Then I think there is a grittiness, a toughness to growing up in Colombia and trying to be successful. Then getting a chance to get out of Colombia and find a new life for yourself that now the mentality of the players that come to MLS is strong."
Not wanting to limit himself to his contacts in the sport domestically, Marsch recently embarked on an extensive 10-day long scouting trip to Europe. The mission was simple in its focus. The club had identified a number of players over the course of this season and now it was time to sit down and meet them face to face. Marsch remarked on the purpose of the trip, "It was to see what their goals, what their intentions are for their careers and also to let them know my goals and our goals are as an organization." A relationship-building process that continues.
Having announced earlier in the week that Preston Burpa would become the goalkeeping coach, an ex-player familiar to the organization from back in the old USL days and specifically their rivalry with the Seattle Sounders - the club added significant depth to the coaching ranks on Thursday with the appointment of Mike Sorber as an assistant. Marsch couldn't sound more delighted, "As an organization and as a head coach I feel fortunate to have a guy with his pedigree now as part of our staff. I know he'll make us stronger and he'll make me stronger. He's really a great coach." Adding, "We have a history of working together. So we have a common idea of what the environment needs to be like. We're going to create an environment that's about learning, about competing and getting better every day". They are long-time friends and colleagues they haven't always seen eye to eye, which is a positive according to the rookie head coach. "One of the good things about our relationship is we don't see everything exactly the same but we have a good way of challenging each other, communicating with each other so you know like I said he's definitely going to make me stronger".
With the MLS jigsaw puzzle now taking on a public face and shape Marsch is fully aware of the playing philosophy that he and his staff will nourish and foster. "Intelligent and competitive football, along with passing football." Although a blind optimism surrounds supporters of all clubs - even an expansion one - Marsch takes the realistic approach, "We still have to understand that as an expansion team that there's going to be different moments of the season that are going to be a struggle. And so we still have to understand how to be smart at different moments. How to rise to the challenge, how to be a unit, how to handle tough situations because that's what's going to be the difference between us winning a game here, gathering a point there and hopefully making the difference between us been in the playoffs or not been in the playoffs."
Marsch's realism underpinned with a holistic outlook, "It's a process. It's not a turn key thing, it's not overnight success. It's more about trying to put in hard work every day so that everybody is on the same page and everybody gets better."
WAYNE'S WOE – Just as the squad was touching down in Montenegro ahead of Friday's crucial EURO2012 Qualifier, England's preparation has been thrown into a tailspin following reports Wayne Rooney's dad has been arrested as part of an investigation into match fixing. Rooney senior is amongst a number of individuals from the Merseyside that were detained by police and then later bailed regarding unusual betting surrounding the sending off of a player in a Scottish Premier League match played last December. As for Wayne Rooney who has had an explosive start to the season, he is still expected to lead England's attack in a match they need to avoid defeat in to ensure qualification to next summer's championship. [Montenegro v England can be seen on TSN2 with Kick-off at 3:30pm et/12:30pm pt].
FOOD DRIVE - Taking a lead from the recent comments from Stephen Hart when he implored all of Canada to 'Taste the Soup' of World Cup qualification now comes word that Canada's quintessential supporters group The Voyageurs has organized a canned food drive ahead of the October 11 qualifier in Toronto against Puerto Rico. Not only thinking of the needy, the Voyageur's creative department has been in design mode. Expect then to see some of the most creative banners ever to grace a Canadian soccer stadium at BMO Field next Tuesday.
BULLDOZERS IN THE BUILDING – The Impact hasn't just limited itself to laying their MLS foundations on the pitch this past week. In a ceremony that took place directly preceding their annual awards gala Tuesday evening, President Joey Saputo donned his Impact MLS logo emblazoned safety helmet to climb atop an earth digger to formally break ground for the expansion of Saputo Stadium where capacity will rise from the current 13,034 to 20,341. The West Stand Plaza will be outfitted with permanent structures where previously the concourse was housed with temporary facilities and the corporate facilities will see an almost three-fold increase.