I'm filling in this week for Brian, who is super duper busy with secret engineer things. Sofiane Benzaza of Mount Royal Soccer has been kind enough to answer my questions throughly.
1) The short version, for those less in the know: What has happened to Montreal? They're in a flat spin, heading out to sea. Do you see a recovery anytime soon or do things look grim in the near future?
I think that the other MLS teams have figured out what makes Montreal tick. Add to that a dip in game fitness or let's just say that the experience of the first half of the season is feeling the mileage.
Warning signs of this skid/spin/slump started when the Montreal Impact lost 2-0 to the Columbus Crew. Adjustments did not need to be made right away but the key was to overpower the Montreal midfield.
The Colorado Rapids drew the blueprints for the rest of the league to overpower the Impact's midfield at Stade Saputo. The lack of balance between the lines has created more space for opponents to get close to Perkins' box, almost unchallenged.
Raise of Hand: Did anyone predict Eric Alexander of the New York Red Bulls could be able to reincarnate Diego Maradona? That goal was symbolic of the team's lack of cohesion of late.
How do we explain it? A predictable team is a weaker team but the pressure of holding on top spot in the East must have had an effect. Like I previously said, the experienced legs, that brought the Impact to first in the East, are now tired legs.
2) We know all about Nesta, Di Vaio, Perkins. Who is Montreal's unsung hero? The one who stabs in the dark and is gone with the shadows? The one other fans completely ignore?
Patrice Bernier is not a well-kept secret, at least this season. He has been the most important player for the club and is proving worth, yet again, to the rest of the league. With a less talented supporting cast in the midfield than other CMF around the league (Beckermann for e,g), Bernier is doing a lot, especially with a deeper role.
Another known star-in-the-shadow would be Matteo Ferrari. He is regularly mentioned for strong performances and being so consistent and a leader on the field. Nesta is the captain of that back line but Ferrari is definitely the lieutenant with best combination of skills defensive awareness and athleticism.
Let's add a third ninja while we are it. Justin Mapp has been known from being inconsistent and an underachiever, via vis his talent of course. But 2013 seems to be the year of the Redemption for the left-footed midfielder. His absence, due to injury, was felt and he will be important in being the difference maker.
3) How does Montreal and their fans feel about Schallibaum so far? He's firey, having been expelled from several games, but the team seems to like him. Do you see a long term future for him at the team? How is he seen tactically?
Marco Schallibaum's passion on the sidelines has been spark plug for the fans and this club. The quadrilingual coach has taken the team to another level, a level that Joey Saputo felt that could be achieved last year.
Tactically, he was not afraid to switch to a 2-striker formation a third into the season and it has paid dividends. Obviously, this recent slump is challenging his competencies but it is only normal to dislike cheddar cheese after eating Camembert for so long.
4) Tell us a little bit about being a Montreal fan. How is the team seen in the city? Does it get any coverage in the mainstream press? How many English-only or French-only speaking fans do you have?
The Montreal Soccer fan is a knowledgeable fan, loyal to this local team but also ready and eager to criticize when needed. I don't feel any particular euro-snobbism, at least more than the usual. The Montrealer is a thirsty fan: a thirst for drama and a thirst for winning.
As per mainstream coverage, it's a mixed bag when you look back. Knowing that the club has been in existence for 20 years, the transition to MLS should have been more prominent as per media coverage. What I mean is that the games are covered but there is not enough pre/post game content for the avid soccer fan. TVA Sports covers most of the games on French Television and RDS (French Affiliate of TSN) covers the national-broadcasted MLS games. Radio wise, CJAD 800 AM ( now associated with TSN690) is the only radio covering all home games at Stade Saputo in English.
The good news is that recognition of the web-only media by the mainstream is starting to pick up. I myself have been contribution to the CJAD 800 Montreal Impact blog and participate, live during home games, at the half-time panel that we call ‘' The Soccer Gang Of 4''. The written press is getting more and more active but only a few actually produce original content, instead of the typical game/practice reports. As per the demographics, it would be hard to say. My guess would be that bigger portions of the Montreal Impact fans are French-speaking but can I really make an assessment by just attending Stade Saputo?
I know that Mount Royal Soccer speak and read as much French and English as the reality of Montreal is changing everyday.
My replies are below.
1) What could have been a battle between the best teams in MLS not so long ago is now a derby of slumping teams. Did you feel that FC Dallas was peaking too soon? Was this an unspoken subject throughout the season?
We all felt that Dallas benefitted enormously from a soft schedule to start the season, and it definitely wasn't upspoken. We all saw issues in our team as early as the first game, issues that would later come back to haunt our boys if they didn't clear it up.
Well, they haven't cleared up anything. The lack of tactical acumen and adjustments, coupled with recurring injuries to key players, is starting to take its toll. We don't think FCD peaked too early, as the form they had before was consistent and not the result of excessive luck. However, we do think that other teams have figured out how to adjust to Dallas, and fans are questinooing if Schellas is planning on changing the way Dallas aproaches second halves. Miraculous comebacks aside, Dallas has been a poor second half team. Guts and gusto only take you so far, and luckily for us fans the team has that in spades. The problem is that it takes more than willpower to win.
They can turn it around, but it will take some health and altered coaching.
2) The Montreal Impact have shown defensive liabilites as a unit in the last month or so. The midfield seems to be a weakened area in its defensive duties. Can FC Dallas take advantage of that slump? Could we see another Colorado Rapids situation at Stade Saputo.
For some reason, Dallas hasn't been able to hit the broad side of a barn the past few games. If you watch them play, they create incredibly dangerous chances that should be put away, but for whatever reason, they aren't. The last game was a bizarre situation where our own players blocked shots or otherwise denied our own team goals. Other times it was poor finishing.
The attack is troublesome because of a lack of goals, but not because of a lack of chances created. If Dallas can finish their chances, we could see a few goals go FCD's way.
3) Do you feel that Mauro Diaz is the key to take FC Dallas to the next level? Which Dallas player are not talking enough about? Which Dallas player are we talking about too much?
Mauro Diaz will help a bit, and can help fill in for David Ferreira, Jackson or Fabian Castillo, but at this point in time none of us are expecting him to be a game changer. If he turns out that way it would be great, but even David had some time adjusting to the league when he first arrived.
The player most people aren't talking enough about is George John. People think of Dallas slumping and come up with all sorts of (many times incorrect) reasons, but I think the issue that is contributing most to this run of form is the absence of our Grecian Hero in the back. MLS teams, due to a league-wide depth issue, usually have one or two players they just cannot do without, and for FCD it's John.
He is the finest arrow in Apollo's quiver, the answer to our prayers, the bane of the River Styx, and the man we all wished we could be. He is a paragon of defense and if there was still a Pantheon, he would be added to it under the name "God of Defense".
He really is that important.
Who are we people talking too much about? No one. FC Dallas is the best team ever, and no one can be discussed excessively.
Except for Ferreira. There's more to the team than him, despite his greatness.