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Impact search for scoring as team takes shape

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The Canadian Press
2/27/2012 6:38:29 PM
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Scoring goals will be a question mark for the Montreal Impact in its expansion season in Major League Soccer but one answer may be taking shape in top draft pick Andrew Wenger.

The husky 21-year-old looked lost in his first appearance as a late substitute in a 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the team's opening match at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic pre-season tournament. But he was an eye-catcher as a starter the next game against Kansas City.

Wenger won a battle for a ball and set up newcomer Mike Fucito for a goal in the 1-1 tie and had two more solid chances in an impressive performance by a player picked first overall in the MLS SuperDraft.

And while he has played many positions, from defence to midfield to forward, at Duke University, coach Jesse Marsch sees Wenger's MLS future as a scorer.

"He's a good combination of athleticism, soccer ideas, good feet, good movement," said Marsch. "He's a good passer and a good finisher.

"So he has all the tools to be effective at lots of different positions. That's why everybody's played him all over. But I look at him as an attacking player and primarily as a forward."

Wenger has an agreement to finish his term studying history at Duke, so he will be in and out of the lineup until he joins the club full time May 1.

Whether Montreal has established who the starting forwards will be by then is up in the air.

Marsch started what is believed to be his so-far first 11 against Vancouver and it had Colombian Miguel Montano and veteran Eduardo Sebrango up front, backed by midfield leader Davy Arnaud.

Fucito, acquired Feb. 17 with midfielder Lamar Neagle from Seattle, and camp invitee Lucas Acosta started the next game, in which both sides used mostly backups. Starting right midfielder Wenger and Acosta switched positions after 30 minutes. Canadian Evan James, former Salt Lake striker Justin Braun and rookie Steven Miller are also in camp.

None could be called a sure bet to be on the pitch when Montreal plays its first MLS match March 10 in Vancouver.

The club has sought a proven scorer in Europe, from Alessandro Del Piero to David Trezeguet and Michael Ballack, but so far has been unable to land a first designated player. They don't expect to get one before mid-summer.

There will be no such problem in Vancouver, where the recent acquisition of big striker Sebastien Le Toux has given the Whitecaps a formidable attack that also features fellow Frenchman Eric Hassli and dangerous playmaker Camilo Sanvezzo. Second overall SuperDraft pick Darren Mattocks has also impressed in camp with his speed.

But what pleased coach Martin Rennie in Orlando was the play of his much-improved back line, which added South Korean international Lee Young-Pyo at right fullback and central defender Martin Bonjour of Argentina. It also has solid Jay DeMerit back at full health. Vancouver did not allow a goal in its first two games.

The central defence remains a concern for Toronto FC even though the club thought the problem was fixed with the signing of Miguel Aceval of Chile and Geovanny Caicedo of Ecuador. The pair looked disjointed in Toronto's first match of the tournament against USL club Orlando City.

Injuries to central defenders Adrian Cann and Dicoy Williams were Toronto's downfall last season, and neither is quite ready to return. But TFC's main problem now could be a lack of pre-season action to help the newcomers get settled. They had only two of what coach Aron Winter called "practice" games against university teams before the Disney Classic.

Time is running out. They will have only two exhibition games against MLS opponents at the tournament before they face the Los Angeles Galaxy in a CONCACAF Champions League match March 7.

Marsch planned from the outset to use Wenger either at right midfield or forward, but it became clear the versatile six-foot player was better up front.

Wenger said he'll play wherever he's asked.

"I see myself as a player that's growing and learning," he said. "Who knows where I'll end up a month or a year from now?"

The Impact feels set in goal with former Galaxy starter Donovan Rickets backed by Greg Sutton and Evan Bush, holdovers from the 2011 second-division Impact.

The defence also looks decent, especially if former Italian international Matteo Ferrari opts to sign after attending camp as an invitee. They also have Jamaican international Shavar Thomas and Frenchman Hassoun Camara in the central defence, not to mention ex-Inter Milan defender Nelson Rivas, who is sidelined with an injury.

Rookie Calum Mallace was impressive against Kansas City at fullback and will push former Whitecap Jeb Brovsky. Veteran left back Josh Gardner took many of the dead ball kicks against Vancouver.

There is some skill and quickness at midfield in Arnaud, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Felipe Martins, Bryan Arguez and especially the team's top local attraction, Canadian international Patrice Bernier of Brossard, Que.

Bernier is back after 10 seasons in various European leagues, mostly in Scandinavia, and is adjusting to the energetic, physical play in MLS.

"It's different," Bernier said. "The guys are probably more athletic in MLS, but in terms of execution, sometimes in Europe it's quicker.

"There are a lot more technical mistakes made, but individually, the standard of the players is as good as it is over there (in Europe). But there are different styles in the league. Houston plays more of a physical aspect, confrontation duels, but Vancouver was one that played more to a European type of standard."

Marsch is not looking for miracles in the team's first MLS season, but expects to be competitive every game.

"The key for us this year is never get too up or too down," he said. "We know being an expansion team the learning curve is important and how we get through it.

"It's a process of being a team. Every day we're the field together there are lessons about where we need to go and how we need to move forward. We're developing a common vision, but it takes time. You go through tough times and good times. It's a fun process, but it's a challenging one."

Andrew Wenger (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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