Jeb Brovsky Portland Timbers
USA Today

Late-game solidity key to Impact's perfect run

MONTREAL – Opposition players used to rejoice when they saw the match clock strike 75:00 against the Montreal Impact.

By then, a number of Montreal players often looked like they were exhausted, and the team suffered: more than half of the 17 goals the Impact conceded in the last quarter of an hour had significant ramifications, causing them to lose a total of 11 precious points.

This season’s sample size is rather small, but so far, so good for Montreal. They have conceded only one late goal, a Ryan Johnson tap-in from a perfect Ben Zemanski cross in Portland, and then again: the Impact’s backline remained focus afterwards, suffering no mental lapses brought on by exhaustion and holding on comfortably.

Asked about their late-game solidity after their fourth successive win, the players were quick to point out the difference made by fitness coach Paolo Pacione.

“Paolo has been training us for 90 minutes plus,” Jeb Brovsky said last Saturday. “You see a lot of guys pushing in, their bodies are pushing in, no one’s pulling up with cramps as much. That’s certainly a factor and we have Paolo to thank for that.”

As the timing of Pacione’s hiring – only nine days after the 2012 regular season ended – indicates, the Impact front office considered that changes were promptly needed. Luckily, Pacione had a good idea of how those changes would come to be. Out went the focus on long distance running, and in came interval training – short cycles of heavy work interspersed with rest periods.

“I can only judge the work we have done, but I knew that in order for us to be successful in the last 15 minutes, we needed to work on aerobic fitness,” Pacione told reporters on Tuesday. “And my philosophy’s similar to the coach’s, so we complement each other well.”

Watching an Impact training session confirms Pacione’s assessment. Interval training is the name of the game not only for the early-session fitness exercises, but also for the drills that head coach Marco Schällibaum’s staff puts forward themselves.

“The work has to be in line with the game,” Pacione said. “The game’s explosive and intermittent. It’s not about long distances. Everything we do has to be related to actual game situations.”