SPORTS

Reo-Coker, Donadel among new faces as Impact open camp after busy off-season

01/23/2015 04:50 EST | Updated 03/25/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - No one can accuse the Montreal Impact of standing pat during the Major League Soccer off-season.

Eight new names were on the roster Friday when the Impact opened training camp at Olympic Stadium looking to erase bitter memories of a last-place overall finish in 2014.

Veteran newcomers included English midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, former Chicago Fire defender Bakary Soumare and Italian midfielder Marco Donadel. The prize signing, Belgian international defender Laurent Ciman, is to arrive Monday.

"All those new faces that have been brought in kind of erases the memories because they didn't live that terror that we lived last year," said returning striker Jack McInerney. "Just playing will help put it behind us.

"We struggled everywhere last year: injuries, scoring goals, keeping them out of our net. I think the new faces will help us achieve what we want."

Montreal took a big step backward last season when, after squeaking into the playoffs in 2013, it made no significant off-season player moves. The Impact finished last with a 6-18-10 record, scoring only 38 goals in 34 games while allowing 58.

The only move of note a year ago was firing coach Marco Schallibaum and hiring former Chicago boss Frank Klopas, who returns for a second season.

Klopas focused on rebuilding the "spine" of the team, mainly the central defence and defensive midfield positions.

Ciman and six-foot-four Bakary Soumare, acquired in the re-entry draft from Chicago, are likely to be the new central defence. But Montreal also brought in 21-year-old Victor Cabrera on loan from Argentine club River Plate and got 22-year-old Donny Toia in the dispersal draft from the defunct Chivas USA.

Donadel, 31, came from Napoli while former West Ham, Aston Villa and Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Reo-Coker, 30, also came from Chivas to give captain Patrice Bernier some competition for the holding midfield position.

Gone are goalkeeper Troy Perkins, defenders Matteo Ferrari and Heath Pearce, who often formed the central defence last season, as well as defender Futty Danso and midfielders Issey Nakajima-Farran and Gorka Larrea.

The Impact also saw the retirement of star striker Marco Di Vaio, who must be replaced. Klopas has two or three forwards in mind and hopes to land at least one before the season begins in March. For now, 22-year-old McInerney is their only experienced striker.

The American said he's ready to do the job if needed. First-round draft pick Romario Williams is also a forward.

"I can only control what's in my own hands," said McInerney. "If someone else comes or not, I'm still going to put the work in and try to help the team win games."

The Impact fixed its attacking midfield last season with the signing of designated player Ignacio Piatti. But the Argentine is recovering from knee surgery and isn't expected to start full training until the team goes to Mexico for the second phase of camp Feb. 8.

While the Impact was dreadful in league play, failing to win a road game, the consolation prize was capturing the Canadian Championship and reaching the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Montreal faces Pachuca in Mexico in a quarter-final Feb. 24 and plays the return leg March 3 at Olympic Stadium.

"We had a plan on how to improve the team and I think we addressed that," said Klopas. "We talked about how we could make the spine of the team a lot stronger and I think we've done that.

"We're not finished, but I feel happy with where we are right now."

The team met Thursday so that the newcomers and some new off-field staff could meet the returning players and management.

"I think everyone's enthusiastic, energized, knowing what the 2014 season was like but also with the moves the club has made," said Bernier, a native of Brossard, Que. "Everybody has a blank slate to prove that last year was just a mishap, that it was not the real Montreal Impact.

"Everybody seems to be abuzz because we also have the (CONCACAF) quarter-finals .That will be an intense, emotional game. So far, you can see everybody has a sense of revenge, to prove we are not the people of last year."

Returning veterans like Bernier, midfielders Justin Mapp, Felipe Martins, Dilly Duka and Andres Romero and fullback Hassoun Camara will have some experienced help and leadership from additions like Reo-Coker.

"It's a very quiet dressing room, I noticed," Reo-Coker said. "There are some individual personalities but they don't seem to kind of let that out yet.

"If we can get great team spirit, togetherness, and bond, it's amazing what you can achieve in football. You're in the right city with the right history behind it and with the fan base that has that European mentality and love for football."

He sees no reason why the Impact can't be a contender, pointing to D.C. United, which finished near the bottom in 2013 but was first in the Eastern Conference last season.

"This league changes so much," he said. "It's a fantastic challenge."

Evan Bush took over from Perkins as the starting goalie midway through last season. The new backup is former Kansas City keeper Eric Kronberg.

One striker the Impact targeted was Alberto Gilardino, but the 2006 World Cup champion from Italy has opted to play in Serie A with Fiorentino.

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