The Montreal Impact hope a pair of major signings show their intent to win Major League Soccer championships now and in the future.
After inking a second designated player in Argentine midfielder Hernan Bernardello, the club boosted its central defence Friday with the acquisition of Wigan Athletic defender Adrian Lopez of Spain.
Neither will be ready to play against Eastern Conference leader Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night, but the Impact are counting on the two 26-year-olds to add skill and experience for the MLS playoff run and the CONCACAF Champions League.
“These two players will be key for this year and for the future,” said sporting director Nick De Santis. “They both played at the top level in Spain and England and they are very motivated to come to the Impact and to MLS.”
The Impact (9-5-5) are second in the conference despite a five-game winless run.
They are four points behind Kansas City (10-5-6), but hold two games in hand. Sporting has won three in a row and is undefeated in six games, but it’s last loss was a 2-1 setback to Montreal in Kansas City on June 17.
There has been bad blood between the teams this season. Coach Marco Schallibaum was ejected at half time of that game for stepping onto the field. He had also been suspended after a 2-0 loss in Kansas City in March.
The Impact will have their first designated player, striker Marco Di Vaio, back in the lineup. His finishing was missed in a 0-0 draw with Dallas last week while he was attending to a family matter in Italy.
Kansas City is missing it’s two central defenders, as Matt Besler is with the U.S. national squad while Aurelien Collin is serving a one-game suspension.
“They are two good players, but the others have done good work,” said Schallibaum. “They won their last match.
“When a player gets a chance to show what he can do he’s very motivated. It’s a good team and they’re not in first place by chance.”
Schallibaum said it should take Bernardello and Lopez a week to 10 days of training with the team before they will play in a match.
The Impact have been questioned for recruiting older stars from Europe like 37-year-olds Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta, or 34-year-old Matteo Ferrari.
The two newcomers are in the prime of their careers.
De Santis said the older players have helped set a high standard and brought credibility to the team, but now the focus is on high quality players who will help in the long term.
“To have two 26-years-olds in key positions, in the spine of the team, that can be the future of the team, we’re extremely proud, happy and excited,” he said.
It had to boost hopes in the dressing room as well that ownership opened the purse strings to bring in some talent and experience.
“It’s important that we’re able to bring players of a certain level and a certain age,” said president and owner Joey Saputo. “These are players that can be here a while and can augment the level of the league.
“That we’re able to do it is great. For the longest time, teams like L.A. and New York have brought in great players, so there’s no reason we can’t do the same.”
Both players hope to stay in Montreal long term, rather than to bide time before signing with a European club.
Bernardello’s arrival will likely allow Patrice Bernier to move into a more offensive role, although it may bump another defensive midfielder, Collen Warner, down the depth chart. Two other midfielders, Calum Mallace and Sinisa Ubiparipovic, had earlier been loaned to Minnesota of the NASL.
The lanky Lopez allows Schallibaum to give Nesta and Ferrari some rest with a busy schedule in the next three months.
De Santis has compared Bernardello’s style of play to hard man Gennaro Gattuso, whose fierce tackling was a staple on AC Milan and Italy squads in the 1990s.
Bernardello, who played three years with Almaria in Spain’s top division, plays a defensive midfield position, recovering balls and launching the attack.
“He puts a lot of passion and emotion into every game,” said De Santis. “He covers a lot of ground. He’s the link between the defence and the offence.”
Lopez, from Spain, played with Deportivo de La Coruna in La Liga and in the English Premier League with 2013 FA Cup winner Wigan.
“I came to MLS to stay in MLS,” said Lopez. “I’m not thinking about going back to Europe because I think the product in MLS is going to be amazing.
“In my point of view, in three years MLS is going to be a top league, so I’m looking forward to staying here to be part of that project to become one of the best leagues in the world.”
Both will need time to find their conditioning and to adapt. Di Vaio joined Montreal midway through last season and struggled in his first month or two.
“It’s train hard and, when you have to play a match, try your best,” added Lopez. “It’s always the same, whether it’s the middle of the season or the start.”
The Impact needed help in the central defence because Colombian Nelson Rivas’ bad knee has been slow to heal. He has yet to play this season.
To maintain their 11 roster spots for foreign players, Rivas and Maximiliano Rodriguez were placed on injured reserve this week.