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Butler: Team, family bonds fuelling Impact's 2013 success

Noel Butler, TSN.ca
3/29/2013 2:41:43 PM
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If there was one single thing which defined the Montreal Impact's concluding seasons in the lower division it was an extremely slow start followed by a change of coach and playing catch-up the remainder of the season in the brave attempt to make the playoffs.

Having failed to make the playoff grade in their final NASL season – even at this very elementary stage with only four matches played in this their sophomore MLS season - who seriously would back against the Impact to not go on and firm playoff MLS football for La Belle Ville?

We do, after all, have much league precedent to fall back on.

One only needs to go look back to last season where the Impact's opponent tomorrow night, Sporting KC opened their 2012 account with the four straight victories and finished the season atop the Eastern Conference pile.

That is not to suggest the same Eastern Conference Champs fate awaits the Impact this go round.

Last time I checked there are still 30 matches still to play. In which each and every opponent will want to provide the overwhelming sense of comeuppance to the young Quebec upstarts.

They will, though, have to breech a defensive corps that to date has only coughed up two goals over 360 minutes of football. They've already held in complete check one of MLS' most complete target men in Eddie Johnson, this occurring opening week in Johnson's very own backyard.

Then, at Olympic Stadium last week, the Impact defence deposited in their back pockets a very certain Fabian Espíndola: A player in the midst of his best seasons who just two weeks prior wellied in a brace during his Red Bulls debut.

A significant cog of that steely defensive corps last Saturday, in front of far and away MLS's largest attendance of the weekend, was a 20-year-old Quebec native who was making his starting debut.

Having last July become the pioneering graduate from the Impact's Academy to sign an MLS contract Karl Ouimette's performance at Stade Olympique was described following the final whistle as 'faultless' by his head coach.

Last night on TSN Radio 690 Montreal Ouimette briefly looked back fondly on his debut and could not have been more effervescent in his praise for the help and guidance he received all the way through from his fellow central defender Matteo Ferrari.

Some priceless in-house behind the scenes footage the Impact released earlier in the week captures Ouimette and Ferrari's walk from the dressing room, through the tunnel area just before arriving in front of a sea of blue.

Along the walk the highly seasoned and well-accomplished Italian is captured mentoring the very raw Quebecker - Ferrari speaking with a softening tilt in his voice, Ouimette is all ears. The conversation between the Italian and the tres-francais Ouimette taking place in very well-crafted English.

Surely this is exactly what MLS President Mark Abbott envisioned as he set about the task of drawing up the League's constitution back in 1995.

Post-match congrats of a job well done by the player Ouimette replaced was an additional bonus.

Especially when you factor in that player just so happens to have a couple of winners medals from world club football's biggest and best tournament, a podium's worth of Serie A Championships and who at the same age as the 20-year-old Ouimette was helping guide the Azzurri into the winners enclosure at the 1996 UEFA Under-21 Championships.

Ferrari's performance last Saturday was far beyond the realms of a growing MLS standard. On the basis of those 90 minutes he could quite easily walk into most starting-11s in the Barclays Premier League. His leaping abilities shame many an overpaid NBA starter.

During the radio chat with Ouimette it was plainly evident as much as my questions mainly focused on his and the club's milestone that his focus had moved well away and was affixed on Saturday night's opponent.

Alongside this an overwhelming desire to continue along the self-improvement process and the steep gradient Ouimette has personally placed on his well-shaped shoulders.

If you see him out on the street ask him how his left peg development is progressing.

Ouimette spends countless hours on the training pitch hitting lofty balls with the weaker left foot as he continually builds up his Achilles Heel, one which was immediately identified after he joined the club in 2009 by his then-head coach and now MLS assistant the French-born Philippe Eullaffroy.

Another Quebecker who played yet another 90-minute starring role was midfield pivot Patrice Bernier.

The long kick-out from Perkins in the 14th minute that was headed down to Bernier who innately threaded a defence-splitting pass to Di Vaio stood up as the difference-maker come the final whistle.

Crafted in exemplary fashion, Bernier is not only growing into his newfound role for good measure, and factoring in the club's Italian heritage the 33-year old is very quickly turning into the "Brossard Pirlo".

Reverting back to that priceless behind-the-scenes footage last Saturday's goal scorer is found in a very animated conversation with the officials just as the two teams wait for the TV-choreographed entrance out on to the pitch.

The conversation centres around Di Vaio's wedding ring that the ref has asked he remove. Di Vaio objects to the point of 'if I can't wear my wedding ring I won't play'.

Not so much a case of threatening to go on strike more a case of proof positive what family means to the Roman. Di Vaio finally relenting just as the teams set up for kick off.

Scoring the winner his natural reaction was to immediately double back along the touchline trotting to the halfway line all the while looking into the crowd in his search to acknowledge his wife and daughter, who were seated high up in the stands in amongst the club's oldest and most loyal supporters.

Post-match, Di Vaio stayed for an extended time out on the pitch. He had very good reason to.

With the highly contented Impact crowd making their way either back home or down the pub to celebrate, Mrs. Di Vaio was making her way down towards the pitch accompanied by her daughter.

Daddy was waiting as he lovingly grasped his daughter into his outstretched arms.

With Mrs. Di Vaio operating the lens even highly-accomplished Italian footballers still embrace family photo ops.

As do Swiss coaches.

Mrs. Schallibaum had already let the Impact's growing Facebook family know earlier in the week that she couldn't wait for the club's Olympic Stadium date with the Red Bulls.

Following the traditional post match centre circle handshake with the officials, the Italian suited and booted, Marco Schallibaum did his very best Usain Bolt impression as he sprinted into the arms of wife and daughter for a post-match celebratory hug.

Any doubts about leaving Switzerland to take up the unknown all evaporated in that one single moment

Walking towards Schallibaum's post match presser, I found myself in conversation with long-time equipment manager Aldo Ricciuti who was reminding everyone who was listening that in 2012 it took 10 league matches for the Impact to even reach the 11-point plateau.

We all know it takes goals to win football matches. However it was team bonding that was a highly significant aspect of Schallibaum's pre-season training camp.

With team bonding brimming, the rest best heed warning.

In my near decade or so of covering the Montreal Impact I have not ever seen on display such an overwhelming force of team unity and club harmony.

Watch out Major League Soccer… here comes a most legit Montreal Impact outfit.

The Full Conversation with Karl Ouimette is available at TSN.ca/Montreal.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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