It’s time to see how the Montreal Impact respond to this week’s front office shakeup.
The last-place Impact (3-12-5) face rival Toronto FC at Saputo Stadium on Saturday evening in its first game since owner and president Joey Saputo removed his friend Nick De Santis as sporting director and gave head coach Frank Klopas full control of the squad.
Toronto (7-7-5) is looking to snap out of a mid-season funk that has seen it go 0-2-2 in its last four games and 2-3-4 in its last nine as it struggles to hold onto a playoff spot in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.
“When you don’t have good seasons, you have to expect a lot of things,” Impact captain Patrice Bernier said this week. “We have 14 games left to save pride for ourselves, the team and the fans.
“We need to show that (while) we’re having a bad season, we’re a quality team with quality players.”
Montreal, which has lost five in row, is less concerned with the playoffs now as it is about turning around a disastrous campaign.
The game was originally scheduled for Sunday, but was moved up a day to allow Montreal a breather ahead of its CONCACAF Champions League match Tuesday night against FAS of El Salvador.
The scheduling change makes it TFC’s third game in an eight-day span, including last week’s 2-1 loss at home to Kansas City and a 3-0 road setback to D.C. United on Wednesday.
Beset by fans and media as the losses piled up this season, Saputo acted on Wednesday, giving Klopas full power over personnel decisions through the end of the 2015 season.
It will be up to the former Chicago Fire boss to shape the team and get positive results over the last three months of the regular season games and in the Champions League.
“It’s about taking one game at a time now; it’s difficult to talk about the goals we had early on because you have to reassess,” Klopas said. “This game obviously means a lot.
“It’s a big rivalry. It’s a derby. But we’re excited. We’re at home. There’s a certain incentive.”
Klopas was surprised to see De Santis moved to an administrative job. The former Impact player, coach and manager was a big supporter when former U.S. international forward Klopas was named Montreal’s third coach is as many seasons last winter.
Klopas had already made a few moves this season, including one in May that sent midfielder Collen Warner to Toronto for midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran. It remains to be seen if Warner will start in his return to Saputo Stadium.
Another move came Tuesday, when midfielder-forward Sanna Nyassi went to Chicago for midfielder Dilly Duka, a Klopas favourite who was little-used by new Fire boss Frank Yallop.
The 24-year-old Duka arrived just after Saputo’s announcement to a team still digesting the De Santis news.
He seemed bewildered, but he was glad to play for Klopas again.
“Our relationship was good in the past,” said Duka. “Coming back and playing for him will be a good transition, and I’m looking forward to working with the players Montreal has.”
The deal had been in the works for several weeks, but could not be completed until Nyassi was ready to return from an ankle injury.
Klopas describes Duka as an attacking midfielder who can play on the left side, in the middle or just behind the striker.
“He’s a kind of player in the final third that I wanted to bring here,” said Klopas. “He’s young, so we can have continuity. We don’t have to make changes every year.
“He’s a very good player off the dribble. He’s dangerous in the open filed. He shoots with both feet and he’s dangerous around the box. He brings another dimension with his pace and his ability to beat players.”
New designated player Ignacio Piatti, who is set to join the Impact from Argentina next week, is also an attacking midfielder, so it will be interesting to see what affect that will have on the minutes played by those currently in those positions, like Felipe Martins and Andres Romero.
But the Impact has five league games and two CONCACAF matches in August, so depth will be tested and they should all get playing time.
Toronto also has depth issues with right back Mark Bloom (knee) and centre back and captain Steven Caldwell (quad) out of the lineup.
The team led by U.S. international midfielder Michael Bradley and former Tottenham star Jermain Defoe had 14 shots but failed to score against D.C., while a young defence conceded three goals.
It is the second of a four-game road string for Toronto, which is tied with New England and Columbus on 26 points with two games in hand on each. But sixth-place New York is only one point back in a tight race to finish in the top five and make the playoffs.
They could breath easier with three points against a last-place team.
As coach Ryan Nelsen put it after the loss at D.C.: “Montreal has become a must-win game for us now.”