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At the beginning of November in 1993, the Impact cleans house by keeping just half of its 23-man roster from its expansion season. “This move will allow us to protect the rights of 12 players and to show them of our real interest in keeping them,” said says the director general at the time, general manager Pino Asaro.
Among the players released were are the Italian Zanone and Nigerian Okenla. As far as Patrice Ferri is concerned, named the 1993 team MVP in 1993 as the and first recipient of the Giuseppe Saputo trophy, is obviously one of the returning members for a second season.
At the beginning of December, the US Soccer Federation announces the foundation of Major League Soccer. Impact management follows this development very closely. “We want to be a part of a first division league,” confirmed confirms Impact president Joey Saputo.
The return of forward Lloyd Barker, third best scorer on the team during the expansion season and member of Jamaican side Harbour View FC during the winter season, is confirmed at the beginning of February.
A month later, it is announced that the 1994 calendar will be a shortened one in the APSL – 20 games – due to the FIFA World Cup being organized by the US. The first game of the season at Claude-Robillard stadium will take place on July 1st.
In order to keep the players in good shape, the Impact organizes a series or international friendlies against clubs form the Scottish first division (Aberdeen, Hearts), versus against Colombian side Indepediente Santa Fe de Bogota and also against the Moroccan national team.
Elsewhere, John Limniatis, Rudy Doliscat and Nick Dasovic are invited by the Canadian national team to play prep matches versus Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands.
Grant Needham is also invited, but his stint is cut short after he suffers a serious knee injury during training camp.
In the beginning of May, the Impact adds some punch to its attack by signing former Tampa Bay Rowdies striker Jean Harbor to a contract, after his former team is dissolved. “The ultimate goal is to bring a championship title to Montreal,” affirmed affirms Harbor upon arriving in Quebec.
Two more important hires are announced at the same time. Firstly, that of goalkeeper Paolo Ceccarelli, who will eventually become the Impact’s player of the year in 1996 after taking over for Pat Harrington as the number one keeper. Then there was the addition of Valerio Gazzola as assistant coach to Eddie Firmani, with an early promotion to follow…
At the beginning of June, goals by Lloyd Barker and Patrice Ferri help the Impact tie to a 2-2 draw with Morocco 2-2 –a team that had has qualified for the World Cup.
The US Soccer Federation entrusts a group to create a first division league, starting from scratch rather than turning to the APSL with established clubs. Disappointment follows in Montreal and throughout the league.
Thunder rocks the Impact sky! Just two days before the start of the regular season, Impact head coach Eddie Firmani resigns from his position due to personal reasons. The torch is then passed to Valerio Gazzola, 30, who starts the season on the right foot with a 1-0 victory in the season opener over the Toronto Rockets on July 1.
Three consecutive losses follow (two versus the Rockets) before the Impact reverses the trend and earns nine wins in its next 10 games, including a record-equalling seven game winning streak.
On August 7, 1994 in Los Angeles, Mauro Biello scores his first goal for the club in a 4-3 victory over the Salsa. When he retires in 2009 after 16 seasons with the Impact, Biello would score 77 goals to go along with 66 assists in 389 regular season games, including playoffs and cup games.
In mid-September, the Impact’s spot in the playoffs is confirmed despite a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Foxes.
The Impact finishes the season in second place despite fizzling towards the end of the campaign with four consecutive losses before closing out the year with a one-sided 5-1 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. “An incredible injection of confidence before the playoffs,” said says striker Lloyd Barker, author of a brace in the game.
On Friday, September 30, the Impact starts the series off on the right foot with a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Salsa, in the first leg of the home and away series, in front of some 2,000 spectators at the Claude-Robillard Sports Complex.
Less than 48 hours later, the Salsa take its revenge by winning the return leg 3-0, resulting in a shootout. Thanks to the two Pats, the Impact tastes victory when goalkeeper Harrington makes four stops, including one with his face, and defender Diotte scoring scores the winning penalty shot on his team’s 7th attempt. “The best moment of my career,” exclaims Harrington.
Kevin Holness, Abdel Sahrane, Lloyd Barker, Jean Harbor & Otmane Ibrir
The Impact thus qualifies for the final against the Colorado Foxes on October 15, in Montreal. Captain Patrice Ferri is unavailable for the game due to an accumulation of two yellow cards in Los Angeles. “We are so motivated that I don’t think anyone can stop us right now,” declared declares Nick De Santis. “There is no way we are losing this final.”
As far as stats go, the Foxes are clear favorites as they have registered seven wins in seven games against the Impact over the last two seasons.
Soccer fever erupts in Montreal with an expected crowd of 8,000 spectators at the Claude-Robillard Sports Complex.
Defying all logic, the Impact wins 1-0 thanks to an unbelievable free kick taken from about 20 yards out by Jean Harbour in the 21st minute. The Montreal defence corps then shuts the door for the remainder of the game.
The title of MVP of the final goes to Rudy Doliscat. From the final whistle - confirming the Impact as champs - hundreds of fans run onto the pitch. “We had 11 players who played the game of their lives,” said says head coach Valerio Gazzola.
In one shortened season, the Impact has gone from bottom dweller to head of the APSL class!
Jean Harbor, Valerio Gazzola & Patrice Ferri
The conquest to become champions was is followed two days later with a victory parade along Saint-Catherine Street. A number of vintage vehicles are used from the personal collection of Lino Saputo Sr., patriarch of the family.
We learn in the fall that the first division league in the US would will not start in 1995 as expected, but in 1996. The APSL clubs want to take advantage of this to increase visibility throughout the next season. In the Impact’s case, the team wants to sign a star player to increase media visibility and attendance for home games, which declined from 4,300 in 1993 to 3,200 in 1994.
On November 8, general manager Pino Asaro resigns, victim to the decrease of spectators in the stands, despite the successes on the field. “I am comfortable with my decision because I am proud of the things I’ve accomplished on the pitch,” he said. “However, the time has come to turn the page as we cannot overcome the philosophical differences over the management of the team.”
24 hours later, at the Impact’s end-of-season banquet, Jean Harbor is crowned team MVP, recipient of the Giuseppe Saputo trophy. Harbour established a team record for points with eight goals and four assists.
Giuseppe-Saputo Trophy: Jean Harbor