MLS

Butler: Di Vaio an All-Star family man and MLS ambassador

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Noel Butler
7/12/2013 11:01:23 PM
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All-Star selection confirmed.

His position atop the scoring charts deepening.

One could mistakenly presume Marco Di Vaio feels his transformation from the player who showed up in Montreal late last May (only managing five goals in 17 appearances last season) is almost complete.

Hold your horses.

"The first year was difficult for me because I arrived after playing a season in Italy and my body was not ready to play more," explained Di Vaio to TSN.ca following training Thursday.

"This year I did the pre-season which was very good for me, for the team. We don't finish nothing yet, now we have to work hard until the playoffs."

For a player who the Impact faithful have firmly taken to their bosom since serenading him on his arrival at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport late last spring, it's hard to imagine a Montreal Impact without Marco Di Vaio.

Well, if it wasn't for the persistence of Joey Saputo and Nick De Santis, it's extremely likely Di Vaio would not have become an Impact player in the first place.

When the Impact's President and Sporting Director flew to Italy in late January 2012, they knew they were going to meet a reluctant Marco Di Vaio. 

"I met Joey and Nick in Italy when I was playing with Bologna before that I spoke with them two or three times but I was not convinced to go and play in MLS," Di Vaio disclosed.

Impact DP storm clouds were gathering. Even the very reliable Italian weather wasn't working in Saputo's or De Santis' favor.

Due to a freak snowstorm in the region, Bologna's match against Fiorentina was postponed. Thankfully their scheduled meeting didn't fall victim as well.

"After I met with Joey and Nick I take the decision to come. I understood them as two very good guys," he said. "They convinced me when I met them in Italy.

"We spoke about the life, the kids everything and afterwards I made the decision to come."

Anyone who has watched Di Vaio's reaction after scoring at Saputo Stadium will witness him kiss his wedding band finger and without batting an eyelid instinctively look over to the grandstand where he knows his family is seated.

The look on the Impact striker's face at that very moment tells you all you need to know what Di Vaio's first and foremost priority is. "We are Family" may as well be booming out of the Stade Saputo PA system.

"Surprised," was how Mrs. Di Vaio reacted when her husband informed he would be continuing his career in Montreal.

"I did not know the city, when I came the first time last year," he explained. "It was a surprise for my family after we found the house day-by-day things went better and we are very happy about the decision."

Then came hint of what has driven Di Vaio to the MLS promised land this season and what the future may hold.

"I enjoy every day because I know maybe this is the last year I play football and for me every day I enjoy going to the field and I'm very happy because I have a chance to play more for a person of my age," he said.

Joint top goal scorer in the conversation for the best player in the league, Di Vaio leaves little doubt of what he attributes this to after his extremely poor debut showing in 2012.

"I know my teammates better," he said. "I know the league better and this year I did the preseason."

A very personal mission in mind, Di Vaio - the consummate professional - was the very first player to arrive back in Montreal ahead of training camp.

"I worked hard in January and February with the team because I want to do something special for Joey and the fans this season," he added.

Something special happened to Di Vaio on Thursday and Saputo could not have been more pleased with his DP's All-Star selection, tweeting the news ahead of official confirmation.

"Greetings @divaio9 for your selection to the 2013 all-star game," he typed. "First Impact player to make the MLS All Star team."

Much to the annoyance of some possibly, where feasible Saputo has always seen to it the club's supporters are first to receive such news.

As a native son of the Italian capital, MLS could not have chosen a more surreal All-Star opponent for Di Vaio.

For good measure, he just so happened to make his Serie A debut for AS Roma's cross town rivals Lazio – the club Di Vaio has supported since childhood.

Script that, Hollywood.

Di Vaio's take on it?

"Strange - When I came here last year I never think I am going to play against an Italian team, especially Roma. Very strange for me as I am a fan of Lazio from when I was young."

Then there is the very considerable Totti factor.

"Strange for me because I get to play against my friend Francesco Totti in Kansas City," he explained.

Totti harbors serious thoughts of joining his fellow Roman in North America, with Di Vaio confirming the possibility that one of the most gifted footballers of this generation could be suited and booted in MLS when his Roma contract expires in less than a year.

"Yes, I spoke with him because he is maybe curious to come," he said. "He spoke with me when we were in Miami on holiday. He's curious to come. Maybe we speak again when we play in Kansas City."

And this is no idle chatter.

Totti has spent 20 loyal years proudly wearing the Roma shirt.

As he deals with an increasing number of his Serie A brethren chatting him up on all things Major League Soccer, hopefully someone is picking up Di Vaio's cell phone bill.

"A lot of players call me and ask me about the MLS," he said. "About the life, about everything."

With Di Vaio's highlight reel season - which really does put to bed the incorrect perception technically gifted players can't cut the jib of a so termed physical MLS - the man from Rome has become a defacto Italian Ambassador for MLS.

Fully focused on the task at hand driving the club to a playoff spot, Di Vaio has let the club know he will not entertain talks of extending his current deal until the season ends.

No talks have yet taken place or are scheduled.

"I want to speak when I finish the season," he said. "I want to take a few days to think about my body, about the next year. I will take a few days after the season and take this decision with my family and the club."

Di Vaio will celebrate his 37th birthday on Monday.

Since the Impact were granted an MLS franchise back in May 2009, Saputo has been consistent with stating he will only sign DP's who want to be in Montreal and as importantly, willing to make meaningful contributions off the pitch.

To get a sense of how this has played out, you only have to a look at a highly personal feature on 'Di Vaio:  The Family Man' which was published on the club's website Thursday.

Now add in Di Vaio's vivid third plural Habs recollections.

"I went to the first game of the season against Toronto and we lose 2-1," Di Vaio enthusiastically revealed when asked if he had taken in any Bell Centre action. "Then I went back against Boston. It was a big game, great ambiance and we won 2-1. It was amazing."

What's that about when in Rome do as the Romans do.

Fully convinced by Saputo and De Santis - Di Vaio felt so compelled to the Montreal cause, he sent an advanced party in the not too inconsiderable form of Matteo Ferrari ahead of his own arrival.

Then for good measure, childhood friend Alessandro Nesta who, after starring with Di Vaio in a suburban Rome kids team, went on to carve out quite the glittering career for himself.

Nesta, of course, joined the club a few weeks after flying up from his Miami home late last June to take in the MLS debut of the Impact DP.

"I came, my friends too - Alessandro and Matteo.  We came to play, to help the club to improve it for next year."

Call it Mission Montreal.

"For us it is easy here in Montreal because the culture comes from Europe," he explained. "France, England, Italy. Now we try help the club improve every day with our experience."

Mission almost accomplished?

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact – Live TSN2 Saturday, 7pm et/4pm pt

Marco Di Vaio (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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