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Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo in Montreal, May 28, 2012. (OLIVIER JEAN/REUTERS)
Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo in Montreal, May 28, 2012. (OLIVIER JEAN/REUTERS)

MLS

Saputo gives Impact players, coaches thumbs up for strong first half Add to ...

There was no blow-up this time from Joey Saputo.

The owner and president of the Montreal Impact, who has been known to sound off after poor performances, had only praise and encouragement for his players and coaches at a news conference Wednesday, despite their feeble 4-0 loss in New York on the weekend.

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Saputo had met with the players a day earlier to hand them a passing grade on their performance so far this season. The Impact (9-5-4) are second in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference with two games in hand on first-place Kansas City.

“Yeah, I’ve blown my top a couple of times (in the past) but I didn’t feel at this particular time that it was necessary for me to basically lose it with the players because we (were) in first place, we’re doing great,” said Saputo.

The Impact are going through their first rough patch of the season with two draws and two losses in their last four games, which dropped them out of first place.

They hope to rebound on Saturday at home against struggling Dallas.

“The message was positive,” Saputo added. “Despite our recent setbacks, there’s no reason to panic.

“From the start of the year the goal was to make the playoffs (top five in the conference). We’re in excellent position to get there. Every good team goes through difficult moments. I believe in the character and experience of this team to get out of it.”

He said there will not be major changes, but they will be seeking a player or two to add some depth heading into a busy second half of the MLS calendar. They will also play in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, which begins in August.

To make room, the team has loaned little-used midfielders Calum Mallace and Sinisa Ubiparapovic to Minnesota United of the United Soccer Leagues.

The Impact will likely seek help on attack and on defence, where the veteran centre back pairing of Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari has been under fire. The team has conceded 12 goals in its last four games.

It hasn’t helped that Nelson Rivas, a solid centre back when healthy, has been unable to play this season due to a bad knee.

Sporting director Nick De Santis said he still hopes Rivas can recover. The Colombian was at practice Wednesday, but stayed on the sidelines.

And he defended 37-year-old Nesta, who plans to retire at the end of the season. Some feel the Italy international has already checked out mentally.

De Santis hopes to convince Nesta to stay on a little longer if Montreal gets through the Champions League group stage against the San Jose Earthquakes and CD Heredia of Guatemala.

“He feels in his mind this will be his last year but you never know what the circumstances will be,” said De Santis. “If we’re able to keep going, maybe we’ll be able to convince him.”

Saputo jumped in with: “I’ve heard comments that Alessandro has already retired in his mind and his head’s not here. This is a player who has played at the top level and won everything and I think the last thing he wants to do is end his career on a down note. And if you ask anyone in the room which guy wants to win the most and bring this club to the next level, it is Alessandro Nesta.”

Saputo also backs coach Marco Schallibaum and said talks are in progress on a contract extension. The Swiss coach joined the second-year MLS club this season on a one-year deal.

The Impact also plan to put a heating system under the pitch at Saputo Stadium to keep the grass snow-free and in shape for playoff games and Champions League matches in the fall.

Saputo joked that it was being done so he would no longer have to shovel snow off the field, as he did before a game after a late snowfall in April.

If the team goes beyond the CONCACAF group stage, playoff games in March will be indoors at Olympic Stadium.

Saputo added that a goal for next season was to raise season ticket sales from 8,000 to more than 10,000. Ticket prices will not be raised next season.

And he said season ticket holders will become club members, who will be invited to an annual general meeting and who will be polled regularly on matters affecting the club.

The Impact have yet to sell out the stadium this season, but vice-president Richard Legendre said they are moving an average of about 5,000 more tickets per game than at the same stage last season. Their average of about 21,000 ranks third in MLS behind Seattle and Los Angeles.

So far, the team has 12 players under contract for next season: goalies Troy Perkins and Evan Bush; defenders Ferrari, Hassoun Camara and Jeb Brovsky; midfielders Patrice Bernier, Felipe Martins, Justin Mapp, Sanna Nyassi and Blake Smith; and forward Andrew Wenger.

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