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Butler: Impact happy flying under the radar this off-season

Noel Butler

2/14/2014 7:54:29 PM

As their principal league rival came to terms with their seven-year MLS itch by splashing their loadsamoney cash and monopolizing the headlines, that likely even NYC FC owner Sheik Mansour has been paying attention to, the Montreal Impact have gone about their off season with a minimum of  fuss.

Last fall as local media awaited news on if Schällibaum would return, finally on December 18th a plume of Stade Saputo white smoke arrived in the form of a solitary press release stating the Impact were placing their 2014 Trust in Frank.

That very same evening at a swanky downtown hotel, the Impact hosted 500 of their favourite supporters at their inaugural Members Council. Introduced to the faithful, Klopas was sat at the head table sharing a stage with the IMFC podium - Joey Saputo, Nick de Santis and Richard Legendre.

Klopas slipped out of town the following day - only though after some Christmas shopping with his wife; a tradition for the couple which dates back to the ex-Fire coach's playing days.

The Impact's third head coach would remain in Chicago until a week into the New Year. Upon officially taking up the reigns as head coach and director of player personnel the first point of business for Klopas was the following weekend's combine.

The opening of training camp was a fortnight away.  As the days ebbed away speculation mounted on what the club would do to plug significant roster gaps.

Most prominently this came in the shape of a retired Nesta plus the Impact were in need of replacing their captain who had been acquired in December by Barrack Obama's local club.

Then throw in the Impact's need to sign a free scoring supporting cast member for Di Vaio, a player they can't expect to repeat his MVP type season. But the only news for local media to sink their teeth into at this time came from city hall as the Mayor proclaimed he would attend March the 22nd home opener.

Then just as the Toronto FC plush red carpet was  about to extend itself from Drake's downtown condo to a certain part of North London, training camp a mere 10 days away, the Impact were finally able to announce a player signing.

Not a marquee signing most hoped for, instead it was the re-upping of the first player to pen an Impact MLS deal, Nelson Rivas. Having missed last term's entire regular season, the Columbian has the perfect motivation to return the faith shown in him by the club.

Aside from calling up three Academy Players plus including four Super Draft picks, Rivas was the only senior player added to the squad of 21 Klopas inherited for when camp opened January 27th.

A 28-player squad that was still without Adrian Lopez who was still home in Spain continuing the rehab of a late summer shattered ACL. The FA Cup winner is not expected in Montreal before Easter.

It would be a full fortnight into camp before another playing signing was announced when just on Monday the Impact confirmed Andrés Romero would return on loan from his Brazilian side.

Romero had certainly impressed in early 2013 but as the season wore on the 24-year-old Argentine became the brunt for much supporter frustration. His form taking the most significant of dips, one we now know is strongly attributed to his wife having to return home to Argentina in preparation for the addition of welcoming twins to the Romero household.

The Impact's wait for a new player signing finally ended this morning when announcing the signature of 21-year-old centre forward, Santiago Gonzalez.

The Uruguayan, a so termed ‘Discovery Signing' becomes the fifth South American footballer to join the club. And with it, there goes the neighbourhood and the myth the Impact only sign over-aged Italians.

A few hours later Toronto introduced Inter Milan's Champions League winning goalkeeper and Harry Redknapp castaway, Julio Cesar on a season-long loan.

The man Felipe Scolari will pin his goalkeeping faith on during this summer's World Cup is expected to man the posts for a team that leaked goals in 2013 until returning home for his nation's tilt at securing a sixth world crown.

Toronto FC's shiny looking new squad currently comes resplendent with more DP's on their roster than even the LA Galaxy are permitted. Don't, though, expect the Impact to up its DP quota anytime soon.

Following yesterday's final training session ahead of the club's departure late this afternoon to Orlando in defence of its Disney World Pro Soccer Classic title, De Santis poured extremely cold water on speculation linking the Impact to Valencia's Pablo Piatti and SS Lazio's Stefano Mauri.

Having added a summer signing DP in each of its two MLS seasons to date, don't be surprised if the Impact continue that trend following this summer's World Cup Finals.

The Impact are set to get their pre-season and their Disney defence underway February 19th when they take on Fluminense FC's Under-23 team.  

Rounding out the Impact's group is two significant pre-season matches against the very best in all of MLS last season. A Supporter Shield wielding New York Red Bulls and an MLS Cup Champion, Sporting KC.

With Toronto FC paired in a much weaker group which contains Orlando City SC, Columbus and Philadelphia, anything less than an appearance in March 1st's Disney final will likely be deemed as failure.

With the Impact starting their 2014 season down in Dallas the night of March 8th, how appetizing is the prospect of a Disney final return and testing themselves against their neighbours, the club which has made most noise this off-season.

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

Beginning with March 8th's game in Dallas, you can listen to all 34 Impact regular season games home and away this season on TSN690 – online at www.TSN690.ca