SPORTS

Impact president Saputo says wanting Euro stars is not anti-American

01/09/2013 07:18 EST | Updated 03/11/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Joey Saputo says he has nothing against American players.

The president and owner of the Montreal Impact took to Twitter on Wednesday to clarify statements made after the hiring of Swiss head coach Marco Schallibaum to replace American Jesse Marsch that he felt had been misinterpreted in the media.

"I don't know why everyone is getting their underwear in a knot," read his first tweet.

That was followed by three more that said: "I never said I didn't want American players. I said that being in a city with a European influence, our fans want to see players other than Americans.

"I also did say that because we are limited in the amount of foreigners, we have to work within a system that integrates the two."

The Impact's captain is American midfielder Davy Arnaud, and last season's starting 11 also had U.S. players Collen Warner, Jeb Brovsky, Justin Mapp and Troy Perkins, as well as Canadian midfielder Patrice Bernier. Their top pick in the 2012 SuperDraft, Andrew Wenger, is also American.

They also play in a league in which 16 of the 19 clubs are based in the United States.

Schallibaum, a veteran Swiss Super League coach and former international player, was brought in to guide a team that added Italian stars Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio midway through their expansion Major League Soccer season in 2012. There are five former Italian Serie-A players on the squad and two from the Swiss league who can speak Italian.

Saputo said this week that the club followed league advice in starting out with an American coach, but the intention all along was to have recognized players and play a European style of soccer.

Marsch left after a respectable 13-15-6 expansion season due to what both sides called philosophical differences.

On Tuesday, Saputo said: "Our fans didn't accept that we brought in so many American players. They wanted to see European and South American players."

But he added that he deliberately did not hire an Italian coach to avoid alienating the Americans on the team.

Schallibaum's squad will be put to the test right away as the MLS schedule released Wednesday starts with consecutive road games March 2 in Seattle and March 9 in Portland.

Their first two homes games are to be played indoors at Olympic Stadium against Toronto FC on March 16 and the New York Red Bulls on March 22, after which they move outdoors to Saputo Stadium.

They face TFC in Canadian Championship matches April 13 and May 1 and also close the regular season in Toronto on Oct. 26. They play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sept. 21.

It is a more balanced schedule than last season, when they had 26 games in the first five months and only 10 in the final three. The new team dug a 1-5-2 hole from the start and ended up out of the playoffs in seventh place in the East.

"Working in collaboration with the league, we are pleased to have developed a more balanced calendar in 2013," executive vice-president Richard Legendre said in a statement.

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