Butler: Oh come all ye Impact faithful

Noel Butler
12/20/2013 4:14:06 PM
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"I don't get this much love at home."

Clearly enjoying the moment, he then looked out from the stage towards his eldest son, who was sat in amongst the Impact faithful, and dead panned. "Don't forget to tell your mother."

It was the Impact's inaugural Members Assembly and Joey Saputo had just been formally introduced to 500 plus newly minted IMFC members taking place at the downtown Sheraton Centre.

As Saputo walked to the podium to welcome all, to a man and woman they got to their feet and gave their club President a rousing standing ovation. He reveled in the adulations.

How different it had been just six-weeks earlier and the last time Saputo spoke to an engaged Impact audience. Then, it was a clearly disillusioned Saputo who met with the media for the 2013 season post-mortem. A season which promised so very much and which ultimately descended into the Horrors of Houston.

Uncertainty may have reigned that fall Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday night however the theme and focus was future Impact.

To set the tone, an hour before the Assembly kicked off, new head coach and director of player personnel Frank Klopas had been introduced to a sizeable media throng. Fresh off the announcement of signing a three-year deal, the latest Stade Saputo sheriff then took his place on the stage at the Impact head table.

Sat four-square with Saputo and Klopas on the stage were Sporting Director, Nick de Santis plus Impact and Saputo Stadium Executive Vice President, Richard Legendre.

Legendre is the architect and driving force behind the clubs' decision to do away with the season ticket model and go with the more widely embracing club member scheme.

Before that though, Saputo opened the proceedings Wednesday evening and used the occasion to explain the new technical structure which had been put in place during the intervening weeks since the November 5th post mortem.

After welcoming Klopas deep inside the Impact bosom, Saputo announced that from now on De Santis would now only deal with the senior team on an exclusive basis and that long term servant Matt Jordan had been elevated to technical director.

With all but assistant Philippe Eullaffroy, who would return to his first love as IMFC Academy Director, all of the other 2013 backroom staff remain for 2014.

Eullaffroy is immensely regarded by the club hierarchy, staff and his charges so need to wonder about the vote of confidence this bestows on Mauro Biello, goalkeeping coach Youssef Dahha and fitness coach, Paolo Pacione.

Klopas has inherited a staff which will always bleed blue. In a city where often language defines, each of them is tri-lingual. To complete the coaching set up down Stade Saputo way, Klopas is expected to bring in a friendly face, perhaps two.

After Saputo had concluded, and sat down with warm cheers still ringing in his ears, Sporting Director Nick de Santis got to his feet to address an audience which was a reflection of a very diverse Impact fan base.

They ranged in age from a blue clad baby about to meet Santa for the first time to many who likely would have attended Stade Olympique from those early 80's Montreal Manic NASL days. Largely male, the conference room was scattered with some rather stylish looking ladies which la Belle Ville is synonymous for the world over.

The Impact's Sporting Director might not always have had the best of relationships with certain members of the club's supporters but his 10-minute completely unscripted speech at the Assembly delivered entirely in French was more passionate and said with more conviction than anything the Bell Centre has witnessed in recent years.  Good luck topping that Miley Cyrus when you visit in late March.

There is no denying De Santis or his incessant conviction and devotion to a club that made him as a player, and one which likely had the greatest influence on defining his entire character profile.

With Beckham now retired to the London suburbs there likely is no more a stylish individual in all Major League Soccer. Only MLS Cup hero and haute couture devotee Aurelien Collin could likely give De Santis a run for his clothing money.

I doubt there is another single executive across the league who is more devoted to his club than De Santis. His Montreal soccer roots even pre-date the Impact's 1993 birth. He might not have always got it right over the decades, but has always been willing to lay it all out on the line.

Ruthless if need be, De Santis does not hide or shirk away. Having won it as a player, a head coach and most recently in 2009 as a GM - make no mistake before De Santis calls it a day the Impact will be crowned MLS Champions.

When his turn came to wax lyrical Wednesday night, Klopas opened up admitting he didn't have a clue what De Santis had just said in French but promised there and then he would learn the language.

 If the new head coach is anything like Montreal's sizeable Greek community, then come the opening game on the season on March 8th he'll be able to recant De Santis' speech verbatim.

Klopas said all the right things, pointed out Joey Saputo's deeply embracing ways played a key role in Montreal convincing him. The new head coach also stated this was the best ever fan event he had ever attended. He should know having joined the league in the inaugural 1996 season.

For a club which truly positions itself as an extended family, Klopas disclosed he has been a visitor to Montreal for a number of years, often at Christmas and could recall those Manic days.

The concluding speaker for IMFC's inaugural Assembly was Legendre who gave a power point presentation in his native tongue which revealed some rather startling data.
In mid-July when the Impact announced they were setting up a members only club, their Executive VP  explained to at the time,

"The way it originated for us is the fact we wanted to go one step further in the interaction of our season ticket holders." 

Wednesday evening we had empirical evidence of this. With a nod to a deepening soccer sophistication of the Stade Saputo devotees, eight in 10 season ticket holders demanded Saturday evening matches in the summer.

For a competition that was conceived as one to be played under floodlights in midweek, the Impact faithful took a cue from the UEFA Champions League with a sizable majority also preferring Wednesday night matches.

Go check the club's schedule to see how the Impact responded to this extensive supporter feedback.

The soccer is what will always compel Impact folks to part with their hard earned money for the season cause - but for over 30% of them they place the Saputo Stadium ambiance and atmosphere just as highly.

Led by the Ultras Montréal and having been attending football grounds the world over for close to 4-decades I can lay witness to some quite fantastic Saturday and Wednesday night matches last season.

No greater measure than closing your eyes and allowing the cacophony of Stade Saputo sound lead your match commentary. This crowd doesn't need any PA encouragement. It occurs organically.

When Legendre took his seat a very well spirited Q & A period which extended itself well beyond the allotted time had all 4 of the Impact hierarchy go through the entire football emotion playbook.

Fittingly the evening also included the introduction of the Impact's brand new 15 person member council. This football collective will meet four times a season and liaise directly with senior club personnel on matters of vital importance for those most meaningful for any FC, its supporters.

Saputo and Legendre's last point of business on an evening that went deep into the cold and wintry Montreal night was to announce the name of a club member who would get to take themselves and a guest away from the late winter Montreal deepening cold for a quick hop down to the sun and fun of Florida.

Not just any old Florida resort mind you.

Instead chance to take in the 2014 Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic® and scream their level best as the Impact looks to defend a title that very much helped set up a very memorable 2013 campaign.

Roll on March 8th.

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

Montreal Impact Fans (Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)


(Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)
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