The team play in all-blue at home – just like Chelsea FC and FC Schalke 04. They are Montreal Impact, the team that joined the Major League Soccer (MLS) as the 19th , and so far last team, in the 2012 season. Since then the battle cry in the Province of Quebec has been “Allez Montreal”. As the third Canadian team, after the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, Montreal Impact attracted great interest towards football among sports fans in the home of ice hockey. Montreal finished seventh in the Eastern Conference in their first MLS season, just missing out on qualification for the play offs. But with the start of the 2013 season at the beginning of March the Impact team have been setting a high standard.
With four wins in their first four matches the team, coached by Swiss Marco Schaellibaum since January, have emphasised their class. They suffered their first defeat against top team Kansas City, losing 2-0 on March 30. However, Montreal remained at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Canadians had previously gained two prestigious victories. On 23 March, they beat the New York Red Bulls 1-0 in front of 26,259 spectators at the Olympic Stadium, with Italian Marco Di Vaio scoring the winning goal. One week before they had achieved another valuable success, against Toronto in the Canadian derby. The 37,896 spectators at the 1976 Olympic Stadium were proof of the interest in football by the French-Canadians. Patrice Bernier and Di Vaio scored to give them a 2-0 lead, Robert Earnshaw netted for Toronto.
Impact had played away in the first two matches of the season. The 2-1 at the Seattle Sounders on March 2 was considered a surprise win. But when they also won 2-1 at the Portland Timbers on March 9, the victory was accepted more naturally.
The former world class player Alessandro Nesta has helped stabilise the Montreal defence. The now 37-year-old, very experienced Italian is still playing at a high level. With his tactical and strategic skills the central defender is a figure head and example for his team-mates. But the Rome-born player, who earned 78 caps with the Squadra Azzurra and moved from AC Milan to the MLS in 2012, has been missing from the team since he suffered a muscle injury after 12 minutes against Toronto. Marco Di Vaio, another Italian and also born in Rome, 36 years old and with 14 international caps, plays a pivotal role in the attack. He too joined the club, which previously played in the North American Soccer League and is owned by the Canadian businessman Joey Saputo, during the 2012 season.
Schaellibaum has only been coaching Montreal Impact since January 2013. The 51-year-old from Zurich (born 6 April 1962) played with Grasshopper Club Zurich, FC Basle, Servette Geneva and FC Lucerne. He earned 31 caps for Switzerland up till 1988. After working within the coaching staff of FC Basle he became head coach of Young Boys Berne in 1999 and led the club into the UEFA Cup in 2002. He later coached Servette Geneva, Concordia Basle, FC Sion and FC Schaffhausen. Though he couldn’t prevent Schaffhausen’s relegation in 2007, he remained with the club until June 2008 before moving on to Super League newcomers AC Bellinzona, where he stayed until November 2009.
He took over FC Lugano for one year in May 2010. Afterwards he worked as a coaching trainer for the International Football Association (FIFA) in Asia. In 2013 Schaellibaum began the new challenge at Montreal Impact. The starting record was promising: four matches, four wins, 6-2 goals. “We achieved a very good start. I am very happy”, he said after the victory over New York, considered one of the top teams in the MLS, but which had failed to meet the expectations in the decisive stages in the previous seasons. Schaellibaum said in an interview with the Swiss newspaper “Blick” that the atmosphere in the MLS was very positive, and that the fans in Montreal give the Impact team strong support. The Zurich coach had recently experienced matches in Lugano in front of just 1,000 spectators; there were almost 40,000 against Toronto. “The atmosphere is wonderful. There is an unbelievable bonhomie indoors”, said the coach who came to Canada on the recommendation of his agent Gaetano Giallanza and signed a one-year contract with Montreal.
Montreal will meet the Columbus Crew in their next home match on April 13, as a scheduled away match against Los Angeles Galaxy has been postponed – because of LA’s commitment in the Champions League. Schaellibaum will not sit on the coaching bench against Columbus, however. He has been suspended for one match by the MLS because he allegedly splattered the fourth official with water out of irritation in the 81st minute, after Kansas City scored their second goal for the 2-0 win.