Impact president Saputo defends coach, hopes to extend Di Vaio

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The Canadian Press
8/26/2013 6:19:50 PM
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MONTREAL -- Maybe the Montreal Impact are getting used to playing without their fiery head coach Marco Schallibaum.

The Impact reacted to the Swiss Volcano's latest suspension with their best performance of the season in a 5-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo.

And they are hoping for another win when Schallibaum, suspended four times this season, sits out again when they face the Union in Philadelphia on Saturday night.

"You never get used to that, but we were able to deal with it," midfielder Patrice Bernier said Monday. "It was our first victory with (assistant coach) Mauro Biello at the helm.

"It's proof that the group is strong. The coach is there during the week, so it doesn't change the preparation. It was a nice way to answer -- that we're able to perform without the coach being there. And also to show the league that it doesn't affect us to much if you knock a person out of our club."

It has been an eventful first year in MLS for the former Swiss international fullback, who replaced Jesse Marsch as head coach for the Impact's second season in North America's top league.

Schallibaum arrived with a reputation for showing his emotions on the sidelines, but to see him banned four times in the first 24 games of the campaign was a stunning turn of events, to say the least.

Still, it hasn't shaken management's confidence in him.

The Impact (12-7-5) are in first place in the Eastern Conference, with games in hand over their closest rivals, and have qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League.

The victory over Houston matched their win total of 12 for all of last season, and their 41 points with 10 regular season games remaining is only one short of their 2012 total, when they finished seventh and missed the post-season.

Team president Joey Saputo, speaking after a news conference to announce the team's new charitable effort, the Impact Foundation, said he has been in talks with Schallibaum's camp since July about extending his contract beyond this season.

Asked if the frequent suspensions had changed his mind about keeping Schallibaum on, Saputo said "absolutely not.

"When we hired him, the option to extend was based on whether we made the playoffs or not. But I was ready back in July to extend his contract because I think he brings a lot to the club."

Part of it has been Schallibaum's temper and part is his adaptation to the strict rules governing sideline behaviour in MLS. In Europe, coaches step onto the field to argue calls with impunity. In MLS, that draws a red card, with an automatic one-game ban.

His first suspension came during a 2-0 loss in Kansas City on March 30 for squirting water at an official. The Impact tied 1-1 with Columbus with Biello coaching the next game.

Then he got a game for stepping onto the field during a 2-1 win June 1 over Kansas City, and the Impact dropped their next game 2-0 to Columbus.

On June 29, he lost it during a 4-3 loss at home to Colorado. The team tied 3-3 in Toronto in their next outing.

The latest came during an Aug. 17 win over D.C. United, when Schallibaum went ballistic when midfielder Justin Mapp was bodychecked into a sideline television camera.

This time, he got one automatic game, and the league added a second game plus a $5,000 fine for "repeated misbehaviour."

And Saputo got a call from MLS commissioner Don Garber asking what was up with his coach.

"Obviously when a coach is suspended a number of times, you get a call from the commissioner, but (Garber) understands that he's a very passionate coach," said Saputo. "He just has to learn how to control his emotions when he's on the field."

The 51-year-old Schallibaum, who worked for FIFA as a coaching instructor before taking the Montreal job, apologized to management and to his players after the latest outburst.

"What I like about Marco is the fact that he's very passionate," said Saputo. "I think he's more passionate than (sporting director) Nick De Santis and I am.

"He understood. There's no use to harp on something when the person who committed the foul understands that he was in the wrong. He apologized not only to me, but to the players. We left it at that."

Biello is now 1-1-2 as a fill-in head coach.

When suspended, Schallibaum continues to run practices during the week and set up the game plan, but he sits in a private box and cannot communicate with the team during a game.

"To be honest. I don't think it affects us the day of the game," said goalkeeper Troy Perkins. "If they were to say he couldn't be the coach in training, it would affect you.

"But come game day, we're professionals. We know what to do. And the message is always the same."

Against Houston, Schallibaum watched the Impact's most dominant performance of the season as they controlled the midfield and piled up goals on a top opponent. Striker Marco Di Vaio got his league-leading 14th and 15th of the season.

Saputo is also hoping 37-year-old Di Vaio will be back next year.

The team's first Designated Player signed a two-year contract last season with an option for two more years. But the Rome native has been dealing with an illness to a close relative this season and may elect to return to Italy.

"That will weigh heavily on his decision on whether to stay or not," said Saputo. "I know he's not ready to retire.

"But I know that if he wants to keep playing, he wants to play here in Montreal."

The Impact hope to raise at least $500,000 per year through their foundation for programs to help needy children and families. The team and it's chief sponsor BMO each pledged $100,000 per year for the next five years to the fund.

Joey Saputo (Photo: Montreal Impact Football Club)

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(Photo: Montreal Impact Football Club)
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