With the New England Revolution set to end their 2012 season against the Montreal Impact in the Great White North, we caught up with Sofiane Benzaza of Mount Royal Soccer to discuss the l'Impact's first season in MLS and what to expect in Quebec.
The 2012 season ends on Saturday afternoon as the New England Revolution take on the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo in Quebec. The Revs are riding high after delivering a win to the fans in their home finale last weekend, while Montreal played to a 0-0 stalemate with Toronto on the same day. Both clubs are out of playoff contention.
With the real emotional push likely behind them after last weekend's win, New England become more and more likely to come into this match feeling a little lackluster. A troublesome season full of upheaval and disappointment is finally drawing to a close, and some of these players might just be excited to see a light at the end of the tunnel with the offseason coming up. That said, it is the final match of the season, and with nothing to play for - but nothing to lose - there's a chance that these two teams will instead combine to create some real fireworks.
Today's Q&A is with Sofiane Benzaza of Mount Royal Soccer, SB Nation's Montreal Impact blog. You can check out our last two Know Thy Enemy features with Impact bloggers here and here. Both of those were done with Giovanni Sardo, who writes with Sofiane.
TBM: Well, the Impact's first season in MLS is over. How'd it go?
SB: It was a roller coaster of results, style of play and expectations. As the pre-season went along and throughout the season, different checkpoints were passed by the club, the media and most importantly the fans.
The discovery of long travel routes, odd unbalanced schedules and referring standards was a learning experience for some players and to many fans. Many of those factors were already known in advance but living it, seeing it, covering it was a different story.
As a whole, the season was a success. The club managed to attract fans at Stade Saputo after some adjustments. The team on the field adjusted its style of play in mid-season and became a unit in every sector (plus trades).
TBM: When the season began, did you expect to have a realistic chance at the playoffs like Montreal did this year? I know the Impact seem a ways out now, but there was a point late in the season where it wasn't altogether implausible to see them nick the fifth spot.
SB: My expectation levels had a strong correlation with the team's performance, especially with the great 5-game winning streak in the middle of the summer. The expectation of the team, the fans and the media (not everyone but hope was there) also followed the good form of the team. From expectation ZERO in pre-season to HIGH expectations in the middle of summer, hope was there.
I will give credit to Giovanni Sardo for saying that the team will be fighting for a playoff spot until the end; and the Montreal Impact did. I was looking more for a 2-year plan to be in a playoff race throughout the season but some players performing exceptionally well changed the game.
TBM: Who do you think was the best performer for the Impact this season?
SB: I sincerely hesitate between Patrice Bernier, Felipe Martins and Matteo Ferrari. I am giving an edge to both midfielders and might be lame by going for a co-best performer act with Felipe and Patrice. I will give the individual edge to Felipe Martins who has been the key in the offensive sector of the team since the switch to the 4-2-3-1. His individual talent and ability to create offense was key to the turnaround in midseason. As a 22-year old, the Brazilian midfielder still has room for improvement.
TBM: How do you avoid a sophomore slump a la the Timbers in 2013? Do you think this team is on the right track heading into next season?
SB: As soon as I saw John Spencer get the boot, I did not really make a parallel between both teams but the comparison could have been done. Both the Timbers' and the Impact's ownership have high expectations soccer wise with a high-level of investment in money to get talent.
Year 2 is coming up for the Montreal Impact and with this season's results and current/future player signings, the expectations from ownership and management can only be quite high.
KEYS TO SUCCESS FOR NEXT SEASON
- Start the season well:Do not go 1-4 in the first 5 games of the season. Most current playoff teams had decent to good starts in their season
- Familiarity:Players that came in later in the year (Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Nesta for e.g.) already went through half a season plus they will have more rest between the end of the season and the training camp.
- A moreinjury-free defensive squad:With so many injuries at the back, the depth of CB was very interesting for the Impact but it caught up to them eventually. Outside the numbers game, the consistency and the chemistry between players is very important.
- Keep the same winning attitude and the strong character of the team
I believe in the short-term and long-term project and objectives of the team. As long as management, ownership and the technical staff are in line (most of the time) in the vision, there should be no problem. At the end, only results will matter but that comes with consistency and a clear plan.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
SB: Perkins - Camara , Nesta , Ferrari , Brovsky - Arnaud , Warner, Bernier, Nyassi - Di Vaio , Wenger
Stade Saputo has been a fortress for the team and I do predict a win so let`s go for a 3-1 win.