The Montreal Impact is blessed with a team full of veterans and leaders, but captain Patrice Bernier does not see the field a lot, so they are without a true Impact leader. Who fills in that role?
Where is Captain Bernier?
There is almost no question to who the captain of the Montreal Impact is, and that’s Bernier. The 36-year-old fan-favourite, who played with the club from 2000 to 2002 before returning in 2012, has been slowed down by injuries. He missed the first three games of the season due to a hamstring injury, and only played 18 minutes in the three games since, coming on as a sub for Harry Shipp against the Seattle Sounders.
Head coach Mauro Biello is a strong believer in earning spots in the starting XI based on merit, and not on the team’s hierarchy. This philosophy has allowed 2015 bench-regulars Kyle Bekker and Eric Alexander to earn a spot in the starting lineup, at the cost of Bernier. Biello will certainly play his former teammate down the stretch as fatigue wears down his players, but for now, captain Bernier will wait his turn on the bench, allowing for another player to become the true Impact leader.
Even though Bernier will remain the captain, the team will need an impact leader, one that can change the game and his teammates when he is on the pitch. Many players could fill that role, such as Evan Bush, Laurent Ciman and Didier Drogba, but the real commander of the ship is Ignacio Piatti. Is he a true Impact leader?
Is Ignacio Piatti the True Impact Leader?
Piatti is one of seven players, outside of Bush, to have started all six games so far this season. He played all but one minute this season trailing only Ciman, Alexander and Donny Toia for minutes played. Piatti already has four of the team’s ten goals, 17 of their 76 shots, and 9 of the 30 shots on target.
What is most impressive is that three of his goals have come on the road, and the Impact has scored only five goals away from home in four games. For a team that has 12 road wins in their MLS history, and has yet to earn more than four road victories in a single season, a leader that can carry the team on his back on the road is exactly what the doctor ordered. Piatti did exactly that on Saturday with a stunning goal in stoppage time, salvaging three points against a weaker Fire team.
As an attacking midfielder, Piatti could control the play from both sides of the pitch, as he is a magician with the ball in his feet and he creates so much space for himself and his teammates in the final third.
Piatti moved over to left of the attacking midfield trio this season thanks to the addition of Shipp, and the Impact attack has been generated 39% of the time on the left side of the pitch. With Piatti back in his natural position, the results are fantastic.
He is second on the team with 211 short passes passes per game, and eighth in passing percentage, completing 81.7% of all his passes. He also has two assists, second on the team behind Dominic Oduro. The most astonishing stat is his 39 attempted dribbles, 20 of which were successful. He is by far the leader in that category, and the next closest player, Camara, has attempted only 11 dribbles.
He has also gained a defensive touch this season, as he is fourth on the team with 13 interceptions, and leader among non-defenders. He is slowly turning into a box-to-box midfielder, and once he gets an interception in the Impact’s final third, he is killer on the counter attack.
Not only is the Argentinian the Impact’s leader and reason why they currently stand in first in the Eastern Conference, but he is the man who wears the captain’s armband when Bernier cannot. He is the player the others look up to on the pitch, and it helps when he is leading the charge. Drogba, Bush and Ciman are certainly worthy to wear the armband, and they are game-changers in their own regard, but Piatti is on another level. Maybe even a saintly level, one might say…
Club owner Joey Saputo met with Piatti in the middle of a practice two weeks ago, and concluded his conversation with a hand gesture similar to a signature, which created much speculation. He was actually just asking for a signed jersey for when Saputo met Pope Francis last week at the Vatican. Knowing that the Pope is a huge fan of Piatti’s former club, San Lorenzo, Saputo decided to give the Pope a special gift – a signed Bleu-Blanc-Noir jersey with number 10 Piatti on the back.
With everything that Piatti is doing for the club on and off the field, from Montreal to the Vatican, he is an Impact leader through and through. He has the ability to put Les Onzes Montréalais on his back and guide them to wins. Luckily, he is surrounded by a great cast of players that make him better, and he does not have to shoulder all the pressure.
Piatti is just a very good Impact leader on a very good Impact team. The season is young, but there is nothing but a bright future for Montreal.