In addition to building a new training facility down the road from Saputo Stadium, the Impact announced it will add a second professional soccer team in the city, FC Montreal, which will compete in the United Soccer League Professional Division, or USL Pro. The projects are expected to be up and running by next year.
With results on and off the pitch taking a turn for the worse this season — the Impact are dead last in their third Major League Soccer season, and overall attendance at home games is down roughly 10 per cent from last year — the organization felt it was time to right the ship.
"We have all the ingredients to succeed: a solid and stable league in full expansion, a city and a market that has a long tradition in soccer, a modern stadium, and now, a new training centre," Impact president Joey Saputo said at a news conference at Saputo Stadium on Thursday. "We're here to stay. We believe in this team. I'm not worried for the future of this club."
Young Impact hopefuls, under-23 and under-18-year-olds looking to make the jump to the first team, currently play their soccer in the MLS Reserve League. But with that lower division currently being phased out, Montreal is restructuring its youth-development program accordingly.
While other MLS teams have chosen to affiliate themselves with pre-existing USL teams (the Whitecaps, for instance, commonly loan out their players to the Charleston Battery and Toronto FC is linked to the Wilmington Hammerheads), Montreal opted to create its own squad, as the L.A. Galaxy did at the start of this season.
Starting next year, the Impact's Academy will benefit from the more competitive USL Pro structure, as it faces teams like the Rochester Rhinos and Sacramento Republic.
Saputo said the creation of a second competitive team based in Montreal will drastically cut down on travel time when players are loaned to and from the Impact. A second club in the city will also likely make the Impact's developing players more accessible to fans.
Richard Legendre, who was named vice president for soccer operations, will oversee FC Montreal's launch.
"It's huge news for our young players from Quebec," said Legendre, whose new job partially entails creating a seamless link between the Impact's first team and its farm team, the Academy. "Players who, every year, hoped for one or maybe two openings on the Impact roster, can now dream of nabbing an additional 20 or so spots in a team that's just below the Impact."
As of 2016, the new Academy team, which is still without a coach, will play its home games at Montreal's Centre Claude-Robillard, the outdoor field the Impact called home from 1993 to 2007. Until then, FC Montreal will play at Saputo Stadium, and on the adjacent artificial pitch.
Saputo said fans will be able to attend FC Montreal matches for free because the idea isn't to make money off a second professional soccer team, but rather to invest in the Impact's future.