Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Montreal Impact

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(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

Only one of MLS’s last seven expansion teams have reached the playoffs in their first season, a success ratio that advises first-year franchises to be modest in their expectations. Montreal was not. The mid-season acquisition of Designated Player Marco Di Vaio (pictured) symbolized the ambition owner Joey Saputo brought to Major League Soccer. When his team didn’t make the playoffs, head coach Jesse Marsch lost his job.

With talents like Felipe, Patrice Bernier, and Alessandro Nesta on the roster, new head coach Marco Schällibaum has a team that’s capable of finishing in the East’s top five. His ability to steer them into the postseason will start with himself.

  • Can Schällibaum avoid imported coach syndrome?

The premise would be xenophobic if it hadn’t become an MLS truism (and it may still be xenophobic): Coaches without experience in North America have had little success in the league. Last season, Toronto’s Aron Winter became the latest example when his Reds stumbled to a record-setting (in a bad way) start to the campaign. Hans Backe’s inability to get a talented New York team to their promised land could also be evidence of this phenomena.

The rule’s not an absolute. When Englishman Gary Smith became Colorado’s coach in the middle of the 2008 season, he’d only been working in the country for five months. Just over two years later, he was lifting the MLS Cup.

The key is adaptation. Too many coaches have tried and failed to impose the ideas they’re importing. If Schällibaum approaches his new job with an open mind, there’s no reason he can’t eventually leverage his 25 years worth of head coaching experience.

  • Can they cut down the goals?

For much of the year, Montreal played a conservative style you don’t readily associate with shipping goals, but by season’s end, only one Eastern Conference team (Toronto) had conceded more. With Nesta, Nelson Rivas, Houssan Camara, and Matteo Ferrari, the Impact should have been better at goal prevention.

A full year of Troy Perkins in goal may help, as might the season’s experience gained by 24-year-old midfielder Collen Warner. Aiming for more possession may cut down the defense’s exposure, but ultimately, Schällibaum going to have to figure out how to shave off about 20 percent of Montreal’s 51 goals allowed.

  • Will the intensity be there?

Between normal expansion woes, early season stadium renovation, the late arrivals of Di Vaio and Nesta, and injuries to players like Rivas, Ferrari and number one pick Andrew Wenger, the Impact were a much weaker team at the start of the season than they were in the final months. Unfortunately , because of schedule that front-loaded their games, their strongest point of the season coincided with a point where their competitors had matches in hand. The timing was terrible.

But those expansion woes also contributed to a lack of intensity throughout the season. The team was in “building” mode for the first half, consolidating mode in summer, and were too far back for a real chase at the end. There was a never a point where the team really kicked it into gear.

If Montreal’s going to make up the 11-point gap that kept them from fifth, they’re going to have to find a stride early in 2013 season – a stride they never found in 2012. Teams like Houston can go months while trying to figure things out, but given Montreal at their best are playoff contenders, they can’t afford to spend the earlier part of 2013 figuring out what they have.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: New England Revolution

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.