When looking back on the past successes of Montreal’s professional soccer team, there are a few long-serving Impact players that stand out.
All-time leading scorer and winner of three playoff championships Mauro Biello, currently the club’s assistant coach, would be one…so would sporting director Nick De Santis, who won playoff championships as a player, a coach and a manager.
There are also two names on that list who just received invitations to the club’s first ever MLS training camp in January; Eduardo Sebrango and Nevio Pizzolitto.
Sebrango, 38, has scored over 50 goals in seven seasons as a forward for the Impact, while Pizzolitto, 35, was a stalwart on the backline for 18 seasons, serving as team captain for the last two.
Despite their advanced ages in terms of ‘soccer years,’ they both were as excited as kids in a candy store when they heard the news from Impact head coach Jesse Marsch.
“When Jesse called to tell me, I felt like a little kid,” said Sebrango. “All I was hoping for was a chance to show the coaching staff that I have what it takes to play in MLS.”
“I was thrilled that the coaches saw enough of me to invite me to camp,” added Pizzolitto. “It is really nice to hear that the coaches saw good things in my game, and now they want to see how I would fit into the group they brought in.”
Both players have fought a lot of battles in the blue and white colours of the Impact, and despite lengthy and successful careers, they will be taking on one of the biggest challenges they have ever faced in professional soccer.
“It’s not going to be easy and nothing is guaranteed,” said Pizzolitto. “The MLS game is faster and you have to play quicker. I’m just going to have to work as hard as I can.”
Sebrango, who joined the Impact in mid-season, scoring six goals in 11 games, concurs with his former teammate. “I will have to go into training camp in the best shape of my life. The only thing I can control is to be ready and do my best and work hard.”
Sceptics might ask what these players can bring to the table for an expansion team with a lot of youth, speed and MLS players. The answer was the same for both…experience.
“With age and experience comes certain soccer savvy,” said Pizzolitto, whose bruising playing style at centre-back has made him a fan favourite over the years. “Stability and consistency on the back end is important. My experience with the club and its history, the fans and the city could be invaluable to an expansion team with all new players coming in.”
“The team will need some veterans to help the young guys both on the field and in the locker room,” added Sebrango. “I’m a competitive person and my goal is to be on the pitch, but I would do anything I could to help the team win.”
As players in the twilights of their careers, one might question the reasons behind taking time off work to go to a training camp as an invitee, with no guarantees. However, those reasons for Sebrango and Pizzolitto are the same ones that propelled them to long, triumphant careers. The drive to be the best they can be.
“It would mean a lot to me,” said Sebrango. “I’ve been on the league (second division) for 12 years and I’ve experienced some good and some bad times with Montreal and it would be incredible for me and my family to be a part of this new chapter. It would be one of the happiest days of my life.”
“It would be a dream come true,” added Pizzolitto, an Impact home-grown player. “Playing in the highest level in North America would be an amazing way to finish a career I’m very proud of, and it could also serve as inspiration to local players, showing them that someone from Montreal made it. It would be an honour for me to represent those kids.”
There may be a few question marks as to whether or not these two “old lions” are on the roster come the Impact’s first game on March 10 in Vancouver, but their desire is not one of them.