The summer is a terrible time for Serie A fans in the U.S. and Canada. Your favorite team is months away from playing a meaningful match. Your news feed is filled with rumors and transfer talk, about 97% of which was never a realistic possibility. The Azzurri are playing, but most of those players are guys you actively despise during the season. So what is a fan to do? For the first time ever, there may be a realistic alternative to Serie A in MLS.
The Montreal Impact, first place in the Eastern Conference, is a distinctly European team. This is not a coincidence. The team was built to have a certain style of play that mirrors that of a Juventus, Milan, or a Ligue Un side. Owner Joey Saputo, recognizing his audience and the kind of city where he lived, wanted to have a different team element than the normal MLS team, whose style of play often resembles the physical play of older British leagues. He wanted a European flair, inspired by international signings and a more fluid passing style of play. In fact, after a successful first year in MLS in 2012, Saputo fired head coach Jesse Marsch because their ideas of team style did not match. Marsch wanted to play a more physical MLS style while Saputo wanted his team to play more like it currently is.
A roster full of Serie A history:
- Marco Di Vaio: The team’s leading goal-scorer was a prolific goal scorer throughout his almost twenty year career for Italian clubs. The tall striker was seemingly a victim of circumstance over and over again (for example, being let go by Juventus because of the arrival of Fabio Capello) but he has found a home as one of the most clinical strikers in MLS, at least when he is onside.
- Matteo Ferrari: The former Parma, Roma, and Genoa defender has started eleven matches in central defense and is considered by many to be the rock of a defense that has one of the better goals allowed records in the league. It looks like the Algerian-born Italian has found the form that made him a desirable prospect at Parma.
- Alessandro Nesta: The legend has been slightly less legendary since making the trip across the Atlantic. While still an excellent defender, injuries have forced him to miss a number of games for the team. In fact, Nesta and Ferrari have played only a few games together at central defense, but are considered key parts of the club.
- Daniele Paponi and Andrea Pisanu: The two forwards have joined Montreal on loan from Bologna and both have received occasional playing time.
- Nelson Rivas: the former Inter defender has not seen the field this season due to knee surgery, but was the first signing by Montreal as an MLS team.
As if a roster full of Serie A veterans were not enough, the team’s jersey is reminiscent of Inter Milan’s with the dark blue and black styling. Additionally, prior to the 2013 MLS season, the team played a preseason tour in Italy, a tour that led them to establishing relationships permitting players like Pisanu to come over and play.
If I have convinced you to take a look at Montreal as a possible team to follow to tide you over until the Serie A season, you’ve picked a good time to root for them. Currently, the team sits in first in the Eastern Conference and is undefeated at home. On Wednesday, they sent a message to the rest of the conference with a dominating 2-0 at home versus the reigning conference champion Houston Dynamo (who admittedly was missing a few key players). The Dynamo, known for their stout defense in the back and controlling style of play, were under pressure from the kickoff and it was only through the excellent keeping of Tally Hall that the scoreline was not worse. Marco DiVaio scored the second goal but it was the other players we listed above who played an equally critical role. Paponi and Pisanu, returning from injury, caused problems for Houston throughout. All of this was in front of a rowdy crowd of 21,000 plus who were into the match.a
Italian soccer fans in the U.S. are fortunate, because in addition to the tours/friendlies that may come through their town, the local professional league has a team with familiar names and a familiar style.