MONTREAL - If you had a chance to take in one of the Montreal Impact’s first training sessions, you may have noticed that the level of speed, skill and intensity was a notch higher than that of last season. This step up was a natural progression as the Impact made the jump from the second division to Major League Soccer (MLS). However, what may not have been expected was the intensification of the U21 Academy players when it opened preseason three weeks ago.
“We are pleasantly surprised with how things are going so far in training,” said Philippe Eullaffroy, Academy director and head coach of the Impact U21. “The players got into the rhythm of playing soccer very quickly. Sometimes you see a lag at the start of camp, but this year, it seems everyone came out to play.”
And the reason why?
“The biggest difference from last year is that we have young players who are more motivated and attentive because they know that the next level is the highest in North America, and they could play against the likes of Thierry Henry and David Beckham. The quality of play from last season compared to this season is already higher. And if the players don’t make the effort, they won’t get that chance.”
Eullaffroy and his coaching staff have put in place a structure that mimics the youth systems of European clubs, where some of the best soccer talent in the world is developed. By cultivating local talent, you are not only feeding the first team with prospective players, but you give the fans some home-grown heroes to cheer for.
“Our main objective is to bring some Quebec players to the MLS team. Eventually, we would like to see 25% of the roster made up of local players, say some five years down the line, but only time will tell.”
For now, the Impact U21s will look to a couple of young players who are on the cusp of breaking out to lead them on the pitch this season. Midfielder Alessandro Riggi and forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel, both 19, have shown well in camp thus far.
“Alessandro might be small in stature but big on talent. He’s shown great progression from last year. He’s worked hard and is pushing to get to that next level. Anthony has also shown good things in the first few weeks coming off of an injury last season.”
According to Eullaffroy, a key component to the progression of these players is communication between all the coaches under the Montreal Impact umbrella.
“The Academy staff and the first team staff are all on the same page. We try to communicate with each other on a weekly basis to discuss the development of certain players and improvements to the system,” added Eullaffroy.
With the structure and system in place to develop the young soccer talent in Quebec, the rest is up to the players to make the commitment necessary to join the pro ranks.