The Impact looks to start a season of renaissance with the arrival of new ownership officially introduced in October, 2000. The Ionian group promises a large each investment into the club. Valerio Gazzola and John Limniatis are signed to long term deals. The future looks bright, but the promise is short lived. The club hits rock bottom in its eighth outdoor season…
By the end of February, defender Josué Mayard leaves the Impact to join the Dallas Burn while forward Ali Ngon (Gerba) is drafted by the Miami Fusion, two clubs from Major League Soccer.
In mid-March, the season ticket campaign launches with the presentation of a new player, Frenchmen Grégory Campi, who played midfield in the first divisions of both France and Italy. This announcement becomes symbolic in the disastrous 2001 season as Campi is released at the beginning of June, after playing just three games.
A contract extension, which makes much less noise than a new signing, makes more of a mark on the club’s history. Following a good first season with the team in 2000, Brossard native Patrice Bernier signs a three year contract with the Impact.
The extension is announced in April, along with the return of Niall Thompson (top scorer in the A-League in 1999), who head coach Valerio Gazzola sees as “the leader for the team in attack.”
Three other acquisitions, Lloyd Barker, Carl Fletcher and Milan Kojic (former Toronto Lynx), are introduced on April 17 at the opening of training camp that brought in a group of 20 players.
Three weeks later, the night before the season kicks off, players Chris Stathopoulos and Vladimir Édouard are cut from the team, but optimism in the group is high as captain Nick De Santis affirms: “I see a little of our 1994 team here. For a veteran player like me, it’s exciting. Management went out to get some good young Canadian players, but also brought in some experience as well.”
However, that enthusiasm doesn’t help the Impact in its opening match, falling 2-0 to Charleston, on May 12 before losing again two days later against the Charlotte Eagles.
The losing streak continues on May 27, at the team’s home opener. Even though Niall Thompson scores the first goal of the 2001 season for the impact, the Connecticut Wolves go on to win the game 2-1 in overtime and the Claude-Robillard Sports Complex in front of 2,500 spectators.
Two days later, John Limniatis steps down as director of soccer operations without an official explanation.
Eight hours after signing as a free agent with the Impact, Greek striker George Papandreou scores his first goal wearing a Montreal uniform to help his new team to a 2-1 win over the Long Island Rough Riders.
Papandreou continues his good work by scoring the game winner in the second half of overtime in a 3-2 win over the Hershey Wildcats on June 8.
During the rest of the month of June, the Impact plays to a 2-1-1 record and wins the international Montreal Cup tournament thanks to a 1-0 win over Cosenza Calcio thanks to a goal by … George Papandreou.
In mid-July, lightning strikes the Impact skies. The Ionian Group, the corporation that runs the Impact since Fall 2000, declares bankruptcy. The club is taken over by the A League. In the team’s following game on July 21, the players don a shirt wearing the letters SOS on it: “Save our Soccer,” but on the night, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds show no compassion in a 5-2 win.
The league mandates Joey Saputo to help find a solution. Players are asked to take pay cuts. Valerio Gazzola is told that his services were no longer needed. The restructuring of the Impact results in the departure of four players: Greeks George Papandreou and Kosta Tsironis, Brazilian Luciano Gama, as well as Canadian defender Carl Fletcher, who was sold to the Rochester Raging Rhinos. A group of local veterans, led by Nick De Santis, manage the club until the end of the season.
On July 28, Mauro Biello scores his 50th goal in the A League, helping the Impact to its first victory under the league’s takeover, beating the Wolves 2-1.
Papandreou and Tsironis accept significant pay cuts and rejoin the club. Both contribute heartily to the team’s 3-0 win over the Toronto Lynx on August 5.
Mauro Biello continues to shine. After a nice gift he gave himself, scoring a brace for his 29th birthday in a 2-0 win over Rochester on August 8, Biello adds another goal in extra overtime to lift the Impact to a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders in front of 1,000 spectators at Claude-Robillard.
September began with a tiny bit of hope for the playoffs as the Impact had registered 10 wins, 12 losses and two draws up until that point. However, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds put the final nail in the coffin by beating the Impact 3-1 in the last game of the season, on September 7.
The season ended on the field, but the jousting off the pitch continues as the team’s survival once again hangs in the balance. While he was willing to say “It’s over!” Joey Saputo decide to take the reins and knock on the doors of corporations and businesses to find partners willing to embark on a five-year plan to save the professional soccer in Montreal.
The deadline to receive a definitive response on whether an outdoor team will be operating in Montreal is set for the beginning of October.
It’s finally announced at the beginning of December that the Montreal Impact will have a future. The Impact is about to be reborn from the ashes and undertake a resurgence in Montreal that would eventually lead to a franchise in North America’s first division of soccer 10 years later.
Giuseppe Saputo Trophy: Mauro Biello