Everything was a little strange for Marco Schallibaum as the Montreal Impact’s new coach ran his first workout indoors on artificial grass when training camp opened on Monday.
It is a new team, a new city and certainly a much colder and snowier climate for the veteran coach and former Swiss international defender who has replaced American Jesse Marsch at the helm of the second-year Major League Soccer club.
“You must work with what you have,” the 50-year-old said. “It’s different in Europe.
“We don’t have these things, but it’s very nice to have this (building) here to have a good training.”
Schallibaum also caused his first commotion when he told reporters he would review Davy Arnaud’s captaincy, only to have the team issue a statement two hours later saying the veteran midfielder will remain captain unless there is “a unforeseen turn of events.”
It quoted Schallibaum as saying: “I would like to say I’m happy with the captain we have in place. Davy was a great choice and remains one today.”
Schallibaum had said earlier he liked what he had seen of Arnaud but that he would decide as camp went on who will wear the captain’s armband.
Arnaud was Marsch’s choice as captain early in their expansion season in MLS, before management brought in Italian stars Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta among a handful of European players who changed the team’s chemistry.
That was followed by Marsch’s departure over “philosophical differences” and the hiring of a multi-lingual European coach.
It would have surprised no one to see a change of captains as well, but it seems that is now settled, depending on what unforeseen events may happen before the Impact open the regular season Mar. 2 in Seattle.
For his part, Arnaud shrugged and said he was never told he wasn’t still the captain.
Schallibaum liked the pace on the first day, even if he is still getting to know the mix of 31 North American, European, African and South American players in camp.
He plans to devote the first two weeks mainly to conditioning, then begin tactical work when the club goes to Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 7 to play in the Disney Classic pre-season tournament.
It will help that there are 21 returnees, including the entire starting 11 and the main substitutes.
“That’s important for us,” said Arnaud. “It’s not all brand new for us.
“It should make the transition easier.”
Last season, there was roster turmoil as players came and went.
This time, the only newcomer likely to crack the first team is Italian midfielder Andrea Pisanu, Di Vaio’s former teammate at Bologna. The 31-year-old joined Montreal on loan and should challenge Justin Mapp for a spot at left-side midfielder.
Last year’s first team had Troy Perkins in goal, Jeb Brovsky, Nesta, Matteo Ferrari and Hassoun Camara on defence, Mapp, Patrice Bernier, Collen Warner, Felipe Martins and Arnaud in midfield and Di Vaio up front in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The oft-injured Nelson Rivas would start when healthy in the central defence, Sanna Nyassi and Andrew Wenger saw time at forward and Calum Mallace, a second round draft pick in 2012, earned playing time at midfield late in the season.
Goalie Evan Bush, defenders Dennis Iapichino, Zarek Valentin and Karl Ouimette, and midfielders Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Lamar Neagle are also back.
Felipe and Iapichino played a season under Schallibaum in Switzerland and know what to expect.
“He likes to play fast and he likes to play forward, so I think he’ll work a lot to make a team that goes forward together and back to defend together,” said Felipe.
Bernier, who played nine years in Europe before returning last year to play for his home town club, should fit into any new scheme.
“A European coach doesn’t necessarily mean more offensive, but from what he said he wants a team that (attacks),” he said. “We’re a team that likes to combine in the midfield.
“We like to have the ball. But from what Felipe says, he likes to have players go forward collectively and also to defend collectively, because it’s nice to go forward but you don’t want to win 5-4. You want to win 5-0.”
The team finished 12-16-6 last season and missed the playoffs in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. It was better than expected for a first-year team, even if it was below the club’s expectations. They were 10-4-3 at home, but 2-12-3 on the road.
It should help to have Di Vaio, the team’s only Designated Player, and former Italian international Nesta with the squad from the start of camp so the team can grow together with the new coach.
“Starting today the objective is to get to the playoffs,” said Di Vaio. “We all have to work together to do better than last year.
“I know the league and my teammates now. That’s good for me and the team. We have the same team as last year. We know our faults and the good things we did.”
Di Vaio said the coach’s nationality doesn’t matter.
“The important thing is the mentality, the ideas he has,” he said. “If he’s American or Italian or European, the important thing is to work together as a team.”
Also in camp are three of the four players chosen in the MLS SuperDraft: goalie Brad Stuver and midfielders Blake Smith and Fernando Monge.
Trialist Nick Zimmerman is there, as well as Impact academy players Maxime Crepeau, Mircea Ilcu, Wandrille Lefebvre, Zakaria Messoudi and Maxim Tissot.