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Impact off to Mexico for last phase of camp before CONCACAF match

02/07/2015 03:38 EST | Updated 04/09/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - Warm weather, grass fields and some exhibition games await the Montreal Impact in Mexico.

The Major League Soccer club is to leave Sunday for Mexico City, where it will begin the second phase of training camp and prepare for the first leg of its CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final.

Two weeks of training on artificial turf at Olympic Stadium was aimed mostly at conditioning and allowing the returnees and many new additions to get to know each other.

"It's given everyone a chance to bond and let them get situated with the city, look for housing and stuff like that," said coach Frank Klopas.

For the first time since joining MLS in 2012, the Impact did not hire a new coach in the off-season. Instead, the club made several roster changes to a squad that finished last, with only six victories, in 2014.

"Having continuity in the coaching staff, being familiar with Frank, is something that is going a bit unnoticed," said goalkeeper Evan Bush. "Knowing what he wants right off the bat gives players a better feeling of what our identity is instead of wasting three or four weeks off the start."

Newcomers among the 30 players on the trip include goalkeepers Eric Kronberg and Kristian Nicht, defenders Laurent Ciman, Bakary Soumare, Victor Cabrera and Donny Toia, midfielders Eric Alexander, Marco Donadel and Nigel Reo-Coker and forwards Dominic Oduro, Romario Williams, Fabio Morelli and Cameron Porter.

Not with the team is defender Ambroise Oyongo, who is contesting the Jan. 27 trade that sent him to Montreal in a deal that shipped Felipe Martins to the New York Red Bulls.

The off-season plan was to have internal competition at every position to push returning regulars like midfielders Ignacio Piatti, Patrice Bernier, Justin Mapp, Andres Romero and Dilly Duka and forward Jack McInerney.

The back line, aside from right back Hassoun Camara, has been rebuilt, with Ciman and Soumare in the middle and, the Impact hopes, Oyongo on the left. In front of them in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Klopas seems to be favouring Reo-Coker and Donadel as his holding midfielders.

With new, experienced defenders, the Impact is looking to improve on the 58 goals conceded in 2014, third-worst in the league.

"We'll see," said Bush. "It comes from everybody on the field.

"The defensive guys got a lot of heat last year for the amount of goals we gave up, but it was a team thing. We didn't defend well through the midfield. We didn't defend well possessing the ball high so the defenders had a lot of work to do.

"But certainly Bakary and Laurent will be very good additions for us."

The key will be to have the squad functioning as a unit for the first leg of the Champions League Feb. 24 against Mexican club Pachuca. The return leg is March 3 at Olympic Stadium.

The Impact will use the training facilities of one of Mexico City's top clubs, Cruz Azul. A key will be adapting to an altitude of about 2,300 metres.

Montreal will play exhibition games Feb. 10 against Cruz Azul's under-18 squad, Feb. 13 against second division team Proyecto Tecamachalco and Feb. 17 versus a mix of Cruz Azul's first team and reserve players.

The Impact moves to Pachuca, about 90 kilometres from Mexico City, on Feb. 22.

The club announced Saturday it signed Porter, a six-foot-one forward taken 45th overall in the SuperDraft. The Centerville, Ohio native had 15 goals in 17 games for Princeton University last season.

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