A week to the rhythm of MLS
At the helm of his first training session in Montreal, Marsch finally put on his coaching gear, which he will be sporting next season, and he took in the sights and sounds directly from the pitch. “I’m happy to be back on the field,” he said. “Working with a national team, there isn’t much time on the pitch, and since my arrival to Montreal, that’s been the case as well. I spent most of my time evaluating players on this team, from the MLS or from abroad. My focus was to take in some games, study video and meet the players. It was a period where we needed to decide on what type of team we’d have in the MLS, our philosophy and other key elements.”
INTENSE AND DIFFICULT
Work over the last week has been just as important for Marsch as he evaluated current Impact players up close at an evaluation camp. He had a chance to see most of these players with the team this season, but there were also seven newcomers. “The guys that were invited were, according to us, players who had a shot at being part of the team next season. I wanted to get a chance to see them up close, on the field, but also to get to know a little more about them. As for the invitees, I know of them as players quite well (but not so much on a personal level) before they made their way to camp.”
The training sessions had a very particular direction, because contrarily to the norm, these sessions were not to prepare for an upcoming game or to find team chemistry. Each player had one individual objective in mind: to show off their skills. “Exactly… but a team does need to have a common goal and work together. If a player is looking for individual success, he needs to have a grasp of the collective consciousness and make other players better.”
Veteran players and newcomers alike knew they needed to grab this opportunity and sometimes the battle for a roster spot was a tough one. “Everyone wants to make this team next season and is looking to impress,” said Amir Lowery. “The week was tough, every practice was difficult and the legs were heavy,” added Wes Knight, who played with Vancouver earlier this season. As for Bill Gaudette, who made his return from injury, he felt bad for his teammates. “They battled right to the end to make the playoffs this season, and were now forced to push even harder this week. I noticed that for them, it was difficult and intense.” That’s the price of a spot in MLS.
PLAYING AT A HIGHER LEVEL
Despite putting in their best efforts, the ultimate goal was to impress Jesse Marsch, who had some specific attributes and criteria that he was looking for. “The objective for me was to evaluate each and every player and to see if the idea I have of them and their potential could somehow progress to make the jump to the next level, but also if that player could fit into what we are trying to do here according to the principles we put in place,” added the American-born coach. “At the beginning of the week, we told the players that we would be showing them certain principles we plan on implementing, so to reflect on them, but to also play freely. The training sessions were, understand by all, to be opportunities to implement certain aspects of game play that I deem important.”
Marsch wanted to see if these players had the potential to play in Major League Soccer. “We developed practices where the tempo and speed were higher than the NASL and are similar to those in MLS. This helped me determine if players made progress in some way, or if the tempo was too high for them.”
The oldest player on the roster, Nevio Pizzolitto, is probably the best person to explain what went on. “Most of his comments had to with when to play the ball faster and how to find space,” said last season’s team captain. “The coach let us play and gave us a lot of feedback based on what he saw. During the week, we played many mini-matches, as it is in a game situation when one sees the nuances.”
“I KNOW ENOUGH TO MAKE MY DECISIONS”
All of this training helped the former assistant coach to Bob Bradley come to terms with certain decisions. “There weren’t too many surprises. However, I did notice certain indicators that I had not seen before that are very telling… some positive and some negative. That includes both on the field and off it. There are other cases that are harder to evaluate, most notably with injured players. But I think I have a good enough idea of who these players are and what direction I want to take.”
As such, it sounds as though the important choices have been made. All that’s left is communicating them to the players and the public. “We plan to schedule meetings very shortly with all the players in order to discuss their futures. However, some decisions will take longer than others to be made official. I don’t want everyone to know too early who we plan on keeping. I am thinking specifically about other MLS teams who might protect players based on our decisions. We plan on making our decisions public at different times throughout the year for both the players and the public.
The important thing is that Jesse Marsch, Nick De Santis and Matt Jordan know all they need to know about those players they plan to keep in Montreal next season and all the essential information to continue to build this team and find reinforcements to help the Montreal Impact’s debut in MLS be a successful one.
Matthias Van Halst, Impact Media