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Analyst, TSN Radio 690 Montreal


With the Stade Saputo opener against Toronto FC a mere fortnight away, it was joy all round at the start of another week of training when the tarps were finally removed from the main surface of the Montreal Impact’s training facility, nestled down by the banks of the St-Lawrence Seaway.  

If the smell of a freshly cut football pitch resonates and connects so very deeply with footballers, well that very moment on Monday morning was the second-best thing. Training itself was moved to mid-afternoon to allow for the sun and slight wind work its magic. This being Montreal, a light snow had accumulated overnight.

Banned from training at their practice facilities and made to train on a plastic pitch until five matches into their seasons, maybe the Bundesliga or Ligue1 might be far more competitive next season if Bayern Munich and PSG were handicapped in a similar fashion to the Impact have been.

And speaking of plastic football pitches, what a fantastic effort and performance the Impact put in last Saturday afternoon in front of 22,000 of us last Saturday afternoon at Olympic Stadium. You know a team is moving into its preferred gear when two of the most unlikely goal scorers were the difference-makers.

The Impact inflicted a 2-0 drubbing on the Columbus Crew - a team, that when figuring in their extended winless start to the season, surely must still have their football souls in Portland following the devastating manner of how MLS Cup 2015 rolled itself out.  The game was already over as a contest as the last of the VIP stragglers made it into the expensive seats.

Must say, when Hassoun Camara met Ontivero’s corner, as someone who has taken the Impact defender to task over his entire MLS tenure and factoring in his injury-riddled 2015, followed up by the club releasing him, there could have been no more a worthy a goal scorer than the club’s joint-longest-serving player to finally break the Impact’s extended scoreless streak.

It was a few minutes into the second half when Camara expertly placed his header from the edge of the six-yard box and into the far corner, beyond the reaches of even Manuel Neuer-  the Impact’s scoreless bout had extended itself fully through two matches and the first half of last Saturday’s Crew match.

Biello, the Impact bench and the entire team’s reaction at that very moment was quite palpable with Camara’s wide-eyed smiling face something to truly behold - worth the price of entrance itself.

With Camara always a threat anytime he’s on the pitch from a dangerous set piece or a corner, I wonder what price the bookies were offering pre-match for Bekker to get on the score sheet. Not only that, but with a header from open play.

Bekker likely hasn’t tallied with his head since starring for Oakville SC at a time Toronto FC was merely a dream. His goal celebration which followed, where the far corner flag was sent into orbit, tells me if ever Piatti, Donadel or even Drogba don’t fancy a set piece, if I’m Mauro Biello, I’d summon Bekker.

Two goals, three points gathered and a second straight shutout win at home rightfully sent the Impact back to the summit of the Eastern Conference. The only thing that would have given concern to Biello and his staff as they strolled towards the dressing room at the final whistle was how very easily the Crew exposed their team at times. But it was woeful finishing on the day that proved to be the ultimate undoing of the MLS Cup runners up.

Next up for the Impact is an away date with the Chicago Fire. The Fire were the Impact’s very first MLS home opponent back on St. Patrick’s Day 2012 and the two clubs for a variety of reasons have deepened their connection over the past four years.

If we thought the Impact’s pick-up of Laurent Ciman in the 2015 offseason was a tasty piece of business, then what to make of February’s acquisition of the quintessential MLS homegrown player in Harry Shipp from the Fire?

You would think that playing a starring role for his local team after having been a college standout and NCAA title winner with Notre Dame would endear himself to the Chicago faithful, but apparently not.

With the departure of Frank Yallop, the new regime in Chicago viewed the 24-year old Shipp as surplus to requirements. Shipp received word a trade was in the works and imminent whilst out on a dinner date with his girlfriend. Charming.

No question Shipp has excelled in Impact blue and, in an early season chat with TSN690, disclosed that he has fallen in love with the football style demanded by Biello and was taken aback by the sheer pace of foot and football thought of his new teammates. Chicago might well be home, but Montreal has very quickly become the midfielder’s spiritual football home.

Somebody who knows Shipp extremely well is the man who took the Impact to within 45 minutes of a Champions League title in Frank Klopas. A Chicago native, Klopas has returned to the Fire as a TV analyst.

At the time of Klopas's dismissal last summer, the playoffs for the Impact weren’t so much on a distant horizon as they were in a deep black hole, from the likes of which Stephen Hawking would have had trouble extracting theteam. Sure, he didn’t get to have a lean and very mean Drogba during his time, but whichever way you care to spin it, football is a team sport. The Impact under Mauro Biello fully espouse the team ethic. "Whatever It Takes" is merely a marketing cliché, but players and team personnel have fully embraced Biello's methodology. As such, it's hard to fathom this is the very first head coaching gig for the 43-year-old, trilingual (and counting) native Montrealer.

Want to truly witness a team with a singular focus and purpose? Then when visiting Stade Saputo this season, observe the body language of the players on the pitch and, on the odd occasion, fix your eyes and thoughts on the Impact’s bench and the technical area.

Speaking of the Impact bench, a revving-on-all-four-cylinders Didier Drogba travelled to Chicago with the squad on Friday afternoon.

Even with allegations of improper allocations of funds from one UK tabloid by his deeply beloved Didier Drogba Foundation, the Ivorian’s response at training was to let his head and feet do the talking, as he stayed out on the practice pitch well after the training session had concluded. The statement released on Thursday by Drogba’s organization, plus exclusive UK newspaper interviews, allowed the Impact striker to voice his rightful responses to those tabloid allegations.

Drogba will need no reminding of his full Impact debut last Labour Day weekend, gracious in his postgame comments to reference the then recently departed Klopas. If he gets his chance in Chicago on Saturday evening, somehow I don’t think the Impact striker will be so gracious.

Drogba did, of course, turn down the Fire’s overtures in favour of La Belle Ville last summer and, as he explicitly stated during that now famous pitch-side unveiling ceremony late last July, Drogba's sole reason to go to Montreal was to continue his tradition of winning that he's cultivated over the course of his career. If the curtain does indeed come down on Drogba's career this season, it will be the end for one of modern day football’s very best players and personalities and you can be sure football the world over will be much poorer for it.


Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact is LIVE on Saturday on TSN 690 with kick-off at 5pm et/2pm pt