'12 Season Preview: Impact to surprise in East

The expansion Montreal Impact enters Major League Soccer's 17th season as the league's 19th team....

The expansion Montreal Impact enters Major League Soccer's 17th season as the league's 19th team. (QMI Agency)

SPORTS NETWORK

, Last Updated: 1:27 PM ET

MONTREAL - It is always tough for an expansion side to compete at a high level during its first season in Major League Soccer, but the Montreal Impact could be one of the few outliers to do just that.

The Impact made a big splash in the offseason leading up to the club's debut season in the league, assembling a strong squad that could surprise the competition in 2012.

Montreal acquired impact players all over the field, but is perhaps deepest at the goalkeeper position.

Evan Bush was offered a new contract after a superb 2011 season in the NASL with the Impact, but the club also snapped up Donovan Ricketts in a trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy and signed Greg Sutton from Red Bull New York after a loan spell with Montreal in the second half of last season.

The club also strengthened its back line, inking players with international experience like Nelson Rivas and Matteo Ferrari, and picking up youngsters with MLS experience like Tyson Wahl, Zarek Valentin, and Jeb Brovsky.

Justin Mapp and Davy Arnaud joined the Impact to go along with the promising midfield talent that the club selected in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. With the number one overall pick, Montreal took Duke's Andrew Wenger, a versatile player who can play virtually any field position. The club then selected Marquette's midfielder Callum Mallace, a box-to-box type player with a great engine, with the 20th pick.

There are some questions surrounding Montreal's front line.

The Impact were involved in a long saga over Brian Ching. They selected the striker after the Houston Dynamo left him unprotected in the Expansion Draft, but Ching made it abundantly clear that he would rather retire than play anywhere other than Houston. Ultimately, the veteran was traded back to Houston in exchange for a conditional draft pick.

Montreal held the rights to Eddie Johnson when he signed with MLS, but the club instead chose to trade the striker to Seattle Sounders FC in exchange for Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito. Neagle and Fucito popped up with some clutch goals for Seattle late last year, but it remains to be seen whether or not the duo can shoulder a large chunk of the scoring burden for an entire season.

The Impact are likely to rely on Justin Braun up front after the striker was picked up in a trade with Chivas USA. Braun netted 24 goals in 96 appearances for the Goats, but never held down a regular place in the squad despite showing glimpses of his capabilities.

ACQUISITIONS: Bryan Arguez (M), Davy Arnaud (M), Patrice Bernier (M), Justin Braun (F), Jeb Brovsky (D), Matteo Ferrari (D), Mike Fucito (F), Callum Mallace (M), Justin Mapp (M), Miguel Montano (F), Lamar Neagle (F), Sanna Nyassi (M), Donovan Ricketts (GK), Nelson Rivas (D), Zarek Valentin (D), Tyson Wahl (D), Collen Warner (M), Andrew Wenger (M).

OUTLOOK: Jesse Marsch will have his work cut out for him in his first stint as a head coach as the former Chicago Fire midfielder will need to find a way to work with loads of new pieces into one collective unit. It is perhaps one of the reasons why expansion franchises find success difficult in their first season. The Impact definitely have some quality pieces all over the pitch, and if Marsch can find a way to make it work, then a playoff berth would not be out of the question.

 


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