It’s the sort of thing that tends to happen in the cosmopolitan circles of world soccer, but this occasion had a uniquely Montreal feel.
Where else in Major League Soccer are you likely to find a Princeton-educated, Wisconsin-born manager conversing with his prize new Italian striker in pidgin French?
To tell the truth, Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsch seemed elated to have any kind of interaction with Serie A veteran Marco Di Vaio, introduced on Monday as the MLS club’s first designated player.
“He’s the perfect fit,” gushed Marsch, whose expansion side has lost its last two starts despite playing against 10 men for long swaths of both games.
It’s true that the well-travelled Di Vaio – his more-than-serviceable French is a vestige from his days playing in Monaco – is now 35 and his best years are behind him.
But the Roman has an impeccable pedigree, a finisher’s instinct, and is equally adept with both feet – with 142 goals in 342 career Serie A games he is, quite simply, exactly the No. 9 the Impact has been pining for.
“We need somebody in the attacking third who can make sense of things and ultimately score goals,” Marsch said, praising Di Vaio’s “exceptional soccer intelligence.”
The Impact has actually acquitted itself relatively well in the scoring department – 15 goals in 13 games, which is middle of the pack – but a lack of quality in front of goal has dogged the team throughout the season.
To make a credible playoff push it will surely need the added production from a man who has scored 65 goals for Bologna in the past four seasons.
Di Vaio said he understands his role with his new team and is keen to get on with the job – he’ll doubtless benefit from the league’s three-week international break which will allow him to train with his new mates.
The former Lazio and Juventus player – who has played 14 times for Italy – got a taste of his new surroundings on Sunday, when 150 or so fans were on hand at Montreal’s airport to serenade him on his arrival.
“I want to thank the supporters at the airport, I didn’t expect that. I haven’t done anything for the club yet,” he said through Impact director of football and impromptu interpreter Nick De Santis.
That the team waited this long into its inaugural season before inking a designated player, whose salary only partly counts under the MLS cap, was clearly a source of some stress for team president and owner Joey Saputo.
“Some of the pressure’s off my shoulders. I promised a designated player, and here he is,” Saputo said, gesturing to Di Vaio, who sat to his left on a dais at the team’s offices.
Because Di Vaio is arriving at mid-season, only $175,000 (all currency U.S.) of his salary will count against the team’s $2.8-million salary allotment.
Though the terms of Di Vaio’s contract weren’t revealed, it’s believed to be for 18 months with options to extend it for a further two years.
Asked if he thought this might be his final professional contract, Di Vaio hinted that given his age it may well be, adding with a laugh, “That’s also what I said in Bologna.”
Beyond fielding a competitive team, the team’s ownership has tried to make Impact games a must-see event – a happening.
The average attendance from the first five home games at the Olympic Stadium averaged 36,500 fans, so it’s reasonable to expect the remodelled Saputo Stadium to fill to its 23,000-seat capacity – surely a given for Di Vaio’s debut in the new park on June 27.