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Jack: Eight men out; a night with Schallibaum

Kristian Jack
11/1/2013 12:21:21 PM
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He shouted, he chewed, he spat but in the end, he couldn't do what he truly wanted. There was nowhere for him to hide.

With much going on around him, it is hard to imagine a coach on the sidelines being lonely but in reality, it can be one of the loneliest places in the game.

Standing on the side of the field in Houston on Thursday night, Montreal Impact boss Marco Schallibaum was a show in himself. Fortunately, as sideline reporter for TSN's broadcast, I had a front row seat.

With the unscripted drama playing out on the pitch, Schallibaum stood powerless, at times, to the events unfolding in front of him.

He told me in our morning meeting at the team hotel about that feeling he gets when he needs some of his players to be 'extensions of himself' during the game. When the speed intensifies, he wanted calmness, some authority from his senior players.

The decisions to play Nelson Rivas in his first game for 13 months and hand Matteo Ferrari the captain's armband were attempts from the coach to bring the leadership from the side and on to the pitch.

The attempts turned out to be nothing more than just that.

When Ferrari got dragged out of position, lost his footing and left a gap for Houston to exploit for the first goal, Schallibaum turned in disgust and threw his gum to the ground.

Fifteen minutes later, the ball was inches from him on the right side when his right back, Hassoun Camara couldn't find an outlet and gave the ball away. Seconds later, a foul in their own box, a penalty and a second goal left Schallibaum in tatters.

He looked desperately for a replay of the Hernan Bernadello's foul and when he realised the stadium's video board wouldn't give it to him, I pointed to TSN's screen I had next to me for the replay.

He waved me off. In a split second, the former player had gathered himself and knew full well it was a foul. He talked briefly with his assistants about the issue of the lack of outlets for Camara in the buildup and, down 2-0, now, more than ever, his players were looking at him.

Constant misplaced passes were met by hand gestures and regular walks towards me with his back to goal. I got the feeling if there wasn't a stand behind me with fans in it, he might have kept walking.

Back on the touchline, the coach gave RDS an interview on 30 minutes, as he does for all games, and one he needed to be commended for, considering what was evolving on the stage in front of him.

At half-time in my interview, he tried to maintain some positivity but was unable to filter himself. A minute earlier, he was the conductor of an orchestra without instruments inside a drained dressing room of professionals who needed to be lifted.

Time was running out and at such moments, he decided to react on impulse. There were no spreadsheet scenarios thought out ahead of time. This was on gut feeling, based around individual errors.

When Andrea Pisanu cut inside and gave away another ball with a poor pass, Schallibaum signaled to his staff to call for Andres Romero.

Soon after, still down 2-0, Andrew Wenger again lost the ball to centre-back Eric Brunner. Another signal came and this time, it was a double change.

Schallibaum turned around again. He looked at me and, feeling the need to justify the changes, just said 'we need to get a goal!'

He was all-in at a card table with a terrible hand.

It would get worse. Much worse. A red card for Rivas, a third goal for Houston, and a leg injury to Ferrari with all the subs used.

There was still 20 minutes left and if he had a white flag, he would have raised it. Montreal were deflated, distraught and defeated.

Schallibaum had nowhere to go. Fans behind us mocked him.

"Doctor Phil says its okay to cry," shouted one.

"Start the plane - time to get home to Canada," mocked another.

Sport is a great theatre, one that brings out a whole range of emotions. The often emotional Schallibaum used this time to observe his silence. His players were not as reserved and a melee at the end saw two more sent off, leaving the Impact with eight men to finish the game. Eight men knocked out of the playoffs at their first attempt.

It certainly was a nightmare Hallowe'en for the coach and his team, and as Montreal traipsed off the field for the final time in 2013, their coach finally got to express his emotions behind closed doors.

'It isn't always easy to be yourself on the sidelines," he told me earlier in the day.

Win, draw or lose, even like this; he still wouldn't want to be anywhere else.




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