One of the privileges of team ownership is the power to set one’s own parameters for evaluating success and failure.
Do you judge on the basis of personal expectation? According to preset goals? On ambitions either realized or unfulfilled?
Joey Saputo, president and owner of the Montreal Impact, has answered those questions for himself, and on Wednesday he’ll do it publicly at the team’s year-end news conference.
He’ll doubtless pronounce the club’s first year in Major League Soccer a fine season on balance, having said in a videotaped thank you to fans: “We’ve gotten to the level where we have 20,000 fans coming to every game, and that’s exciting. … This year the fans really proved we are a soccer city.”
Saputo’s mantra going into the 2012 season was that he didn’t want his team to be yet another also-ran expansion franchise. In the main, those expectations have been met.
Early-season attendance records were set (60,860 watched a contest at the Olympic Stadium, a new Canadian mark for pro soccer), the starting 11 were competitive enough to elbow into the playoff hunt as the last month of the season began, and the Impact’s home ground has become a boisterous place that’s jammed on match day.
Montreal also found a way to finish ahead of three other teams in the competitive Eastern Conference – good luck finding anyone in MLS who would suggest the Impact are anything but a first-class organization.
But this was not a season devoid of problems, misjudgments and missed opportunities.
There were construction delays in the stadium expansion, lacklustre marketing efforts, and a midseason dip in attendance that prompted the team to slash ticket prices.
There were dodgy personnel moves by soccer director Nick De Santis and coach Jesse Marsch, including a misstep in the expansion draft; they wasted the top pick on Houston forward Brian Ching, who was traded back to Houston for a conditional draft choice.
Defender Nelson Rivas, the team’s first MLS signing, hobbled through an injury-plagued year and never really panned out. Players like veteran goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, and draft-day acquisitions Justin Braun and Tyson Wahl were offloaded in midseason.
It took until late May for the Impact to sign a designated player – Italian forward Marco Di Vaio – and even then their marquee striker contributed a modest five goals in 17 games.
More signings will be needed up front (aging striker Bernardo Corradi missed half the year with a knee injury, first overall draft pick Andrew Wenger remains a work in progress) and more attacking polish is needed in a squad that led MLS in offside flags.
Having a true number 10 would help, as would more consistent and accomplished wing play than that delivered by Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp.
On other hand, the Impact coaches did get the best from players like clever midfielder Felipe and Canadian international Patrice Bernier, the Impact’s player of the year and leading scorer.
And homegrown defender Karl Ouimette became the first graduate of the team’s academy to play for the first team.
The Impact also addressed some of their defensive frailties in late summer by signing defenders Matteo Ferrari, Alessandro Nesta, the former AC Milan great and World Cup winner, and Dennis Iapichino, who came from Swiss club FC Lugano.
More work needs to be done: The Impact back line allowed 51 goals, more than all the teams in their conference but bottom-dwelling Toronto FC. And while they scored 45, a league-high nine came from the penalty spot.
Montreal was also one of the worst road teams in MLS, posting a miserable minus-18 goal differential on foreign turf.