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Butler: Impact Pres. philosophical ahead of season

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Noel Butler, TSN.ca
3/1/2013 9:11:39 PM
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Not very many professional football clubs across North America can lay claim to 20 years of existence. One such club is the Montreal Impact.

Unbeknownst to nearly all in attendance Wednesday night at the Impact's formal introduction of the 2013 squad the club also introduced the Impact class of '93 in front of an audience that included club partners, dignitaries and distinguished members of Montreal's well-heeled set.

"You know, what's nice was when we called them up to be part of the festivities there was absolutely no hesitation on anyone as far as being part of it," remarked President Joey Saputo to TSN.ca the following day.

"They still have some sort of attachment to the club and to see someone like Patrice Ferri come in from France for the event was terrific."

Since Day One and throughout the club's two decades - save for the short period they teetered on the brink of going out of existence - Saputo has been the driving force behind the Montreal Impact.

Following the introduction of the 2013 squad the club unveiled the club's new third jersey that they will wear for the very first time at Olympic Stadium on Mar. 16 against their newfound bitter rivals, Toronto FC.

Saputo hosted a private dinner with the players from the 1993 squad.

"I had the opportunity after the event to have dinner with them. It was nice to see the camaraderie. It was nice to see they all still appreciate each other."

"When you took a look at it, it was something that was created 20 years ago. We didn't know what we were doing 20 years ago. Taking a look at it now it's obvious that it's ended up being very special."

The Impact reminiscing is one thing but sparking a renaissance to success on the pitch is what possibly awaits the club and its supporters this season. It is a season Saputo is more nervous than excited for currently.

"As far as being excited, it hasn't hit me yet and it will probably only hit me when I walk into Seattle Saturday night in front of 45,000-plus fans. I think that is when it will hit me."

"I guess it's a nervousness and I don't want to think about it because I'll get more nervous just thinking about it. It's more nervousness than it is excitement for now."

Saputo's formal role as club President is well established but he is also likely the club's most passionate of supporters. In that role he has no set targets for where the club finishes.

"In all honesty and I'm talking now as a fan and as a fan I would like to see the club do better than it did last year."

Then the owner in him took over where, surprisingly, he delivered a similar projection.

"I think even as the owner you want to see the organization do you know a little better than it did last year."

Knowing of a deep disappointment Saputo felt both professionally and personally after missing out on last year's playoffs he was very cautious not to place any increased expectations on his players or their coaches for the season ahead.

"I don't want to place any additional expectation or any additional pressure on the club. I think the most important thing is to look at what we did last year, improve on what we did last year, do better than what we did last year and I think everything will take care of itself."

That's a statement spoken like someone who well knows what it takes to put a winning product on the pitch and that there is not any true reliable measuring stick between the margins that define failure and success.

After fielding a rookie head coach last season Saputo has absolutely no concerns that his new head coach Marco Schallibaum has not an ounce of MLS experience seeping through his football pores.

"I honestly think it is irrelevant and I don't want to take anything away from Jesse Marsch."

With many months having now passed since the club and Marsch parted ways Saputo had no qualms discussing in depth why the separation occurred.

"I think Jesse Marsch for an expansion team he did well. My disappointment is that with the club we had we should have done better. So I'm not going to take anything away from Jesse," Saputo said.

"I think what's important to understand is the fact Jesse is no longer here has nothing to do with the season we had last year but the long-term vision of where we wanted to go with this club. And what was important for us from a philosophical standpoint where we wanted to go with this club."

"So I think it is important to put that out there and for people to understand."

That was early last November, but this is now the eve of the club's second season in MLS. It's clear where Saputo's focus currently resides.

"Now you bring in a coach like Marco who has no MLS experience but if you take a look at the people he has working with him the people that are around the table whether that be a Mauro Biello or a Nick De Santis or a Matt Jordan I think that what is important to understand is the organization has some MLS experience," Saputo said.

"We have a tremendous amount of experience understanding what this city wants, what this city expects and at the end of the day, you know, Marco said it: 'soccer is soccer.'"

"Marco feels very, very comfortable with the players we have. Both experienced players at the international level, experienced players that have played in this league so it's a great mix of the two."

"When we looked at the coach and the new coach we wanted to bring in I think it was important to look at how the new coach could communicate, what his vision was."

"Was his philosophy on building a club similar to our philosophy? We took it from there."

If the pre-season is any guide for MLS 2013 then that careful consideration before making the decision to hire Schallibaum has already borne some football fruit in the form of winning the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic.

"You know not a lot of people give much credence in winning a tournament of this sort and I understand that but at the same time I think you need to take a look at it as a game."

"Whether it was a pre-season game, whether it was a cup game, whether it was a regular season game you have to build that winning mentality and that winning mentality begins with any game you play."

That was last Saturday night in Orlando. This Saturday night the club will be in more familiar and much more hostile territory in a football city they know extremely well, Seattle as they kick off another season on the west coast.

Saputo was very complimentary towards the Seattle organization for what they have achieved since leaving the USL-1 back in 2008.

"What they have done in Seattle is beyond remarkable. If you take a look at where they were when they were in the second division and what they used to draw versus what they draw now you can't even compare."

"It's a great relationship I think Adrian [Hanaeur] has done a fantastic job with that organization. Hats off to him!"

"But you know at the end of the day they are the opponent and I think it's important you respect them off the field but not too much on the field."

It is vital we don't simply just learn from our history but that we learn meaningfully from it. The Impact started their season by reminding Montreal's growing football population of their club's history.

In doing so it very much seems Liverpool has finally found a football club that rivals it in the 'proud of our history' win column.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca

@TheSoccerNoel (Twitter)

You can listen to the full chat with Impact President Joey Saputo over at TSN.ca/Montreal

Joey Saputo (Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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