May 24, 2012. Joey Saputo, Montreal Impact President announces the signing of their first designated player in the MLS. His name is Marco Di Vaio, a 35-year-old Italian striker who played for Lazio, Verona, Bari, Salernitana, Parma, Juventus, Genoa and Bologna in Italy’s Serie A.
June 27, 2012. The former Italian international Di Vaio made his debut for the Impact in a 3-0 derby loss to Toronto FC in a home game at Stade Saputo. The number 9 forward played 55 minutes, much to the delight of fans.
July 28, 2012, around 8:30pm in Montreal, Quebec. In the 48th minute of a game against the visiting New York Red Bulls, Justin Mapp takes control of a loose ball about 28 yards out from the net and he turns to his left and finds Di Vaio on the edge of the 18-yard box. Marco walks in and fires one far-side past sprawling goalkeeper Bill Gaudette to score his first goal for Montreal. That goal might go down as the second biggest goal in the team’s history, next to their first ever goal in the league on March 17, 2012 by captain Davy Arnaud at the Olympic Stadium.
On Thursday, October 2, 2014, the clubs leading scorer in the MLS announced his retirement after a 20-year pro soccer career which spanned over four countries and two continents. The now 38-year-old Di Vaio wants to spend time with his family who the most important people of his life, who currently live in Italy, too far from the family-man.
Over his 2 year career in Canada, he has left a mark on the sport in the city and in the country that will never be forgotten. In five or ten years from now, fans and people within the Impact organization will remember Di Vaio’s simple presence on and off the field rather than his 37 goals in 82 games for the bleu-blanc-noir.
Di Vaio arrived at the Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Airport in Montreal back in May of 2012 to a raucous crowd of devoted Italian Impact fans yelling “MARCO DI VAIO, MARCO-EH”, a cheer that stuck with the Impact’s fan section, the Montreal Ultras, for the rest of his career at Stade Saputo. With an Italian community of 250,000 people in the greater Montreal area which has about 3.5 million people, it is the largest ethnic population outside of Canadian and French, making it also the third most spoken language in the city. Joey Saputo and former sporting director Nick De Santis were extremely smart by tapping into the Serie A for former star players to attract these Italians to games.
The Italian community tends to favour Serie A over their local Impact games, but when a former player of their favourite team, for example Juventus since they have a large following in Montreal, plays for their local team, many will show up to Stade Saputo to watch him play.
Di Vaio also attracted former Lazio team-mate and World Cup champion Alessandro Nesta to play with the team the same summer that Di Vaio joined and in the 2013 season. Nesta is one of the best defenders to ever play in Serie A, maybe even the whole world. He is up there for the best backs to ever play, with his mentor Paolo Maldini, Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Moore. Because of Di Vaio (and also Saputo), the legend played right here in Montreal. Just imagined if any of those three legends played in North America, how it would have changed soccer in the continent.
Well, that’s what Di Vaio did during his time. He is the David Beckham of Canada until Michael Bradley and Jermaine Defoe signed with TFC last off-season. Beckham will be forever known as the man who changed the MLS and put the world on notice about the league. Thierry Henry followed for the New York Red Bulls, then Nesta and Di Vaio were more big-time designated player signings for both the MLS and the Impact. Now, players like Frank Lampard, David Villa ad Kaka all have signed contracts with future MLS teams, New York City FC and Orlando City FC.
I spoke to my cousin in Italy about the MLS recently. A die-hard Juventus fan knows three teams in the MLS: LA Galaxy because of Beckham and Robbie Keane, the Red Bulls because of Henry and the Impact because of the aforementioned Italian stars.
Not only has Di Vaio turned some world attention towards Montreal, but he has also gained a ton of local fan support. In a hockey-crazed city, there’s a debate to which team is the most popular besides the Canadiens. The Alouettes forcibly held that title after the Expos left in 2004 and when the Impact were playing in lower divisions but Di Vaio and the Impact have slingshot past them for fan support since their addition into the MLS in 2012.
In 2013 the Montreal Impact were fourth in the league for average attendance with 20,603 fans per game in a stadium that fills up to 20,341 people, but played two games at Olympic Stadium, which has a capacity of 66,000. The Impact sold their millionth ticket in the MLS a few weeks ago, that is just in three seasons. A summer night game at Stade Saputo is fun for everyone attending, and when Di Vaio is scoring goals also every second game, it gets a whole lot more fun.
Marco Di Vaio’s residency in Montreal will forever be missed. Like Quebec’s license plate slogan “Je Me Souviens” which means “I remember”, Impact fans will always remember Di Vaio. The organization should be grateful for having him, considering how many fans and how much attention he attracted to the city and the team. His skills will be missed on the pitch, but all good things must come to and end, just like his tenure wearing the Impact crest.
Grazie Grande Marco. To watch the Impact’s video tribute on Di Vaio, click here.
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