As a statistician exploring new ideas, I understand the issues of publicly trying out an experiment. It can either go great and help create your identity or be a complete failure where you look like a fool for even attempting it. This is how I see the development of the Montreal Impact - an experiment, going against all most popular theories in how to develop a successful team in the MLS and trying to be the first club since Chicago in 1998 to be a competitive expansion team. Chicago actually won both the league and US Cup their first season in the league, although the league was only three years old at the time. Montreal will be happy with playoffs in 2013 and, although the Eastern Division is weaker than the West, the Impact will need many of their risks to pay off to attain this result.
Here is my Projected/Expected statistical analysis of the Montreal Impact:
Last season Montreal traded Donovan Ricketts for Troy Perkins and statistically Perkins was more effective with a 0.89 Goals Against Average and a .813 save percentage compared to Rickets 1.64/.630. Now part of the reason for this is Perkins played when Nesta started, so although Perkins is a good keeper, it’s how organized the Impact defense is that will be the effect on how many goals are allowed.
Last season, Montreal fullbacks were usually a traditional MLS affair in Brovsky and Valentin and Wahl and Gardner. Although Brovsky and Valentin remain, the starting full backs in 2013 will be Camara on the right and Iapichino on the left, both with European experience. Camara is actually the Montreal defender with the most local experience after playing with Montreal NASL club in 2011. Iapichino will have familiarity with new head coach Schallibaum, as both participated in the second division of Switzerland. Neither players are proven and, other than filling minutes, I would say much isn't expected from them other than maintaining a traditional Italian style back four.
Nesta has been a sensational player defensively and in the MLS he should be a great leader, although even in his prime he was never a threat, playing most of the games in his own half. While his partner Mateo Ferrari doesn't have the calmness of his fellow Italian International, historically he has played the exact same style. Which basically means Montreal management feel the Italian style of defense is the best in the world. That might be true. The issue is that most countries in the world, including the MLS, don't play Italian style football. This, in my opinion, creates two issues. Montreal is basically ignoring any offensive contribution by the defense, especially on set plays. Furthermore, what happens if one of the starting four miss games and are replaced by an American/Canadian defender who doesn't have a similar upbringing. This being said, the health of Nelson Rivas might be vital for the Impact as the season rolls along.
Based on Montreal best lineup through projected stats, I have the Impact playing a 4-1-4-1 formation with Canadian Patrice Bernier playing the role of holding midfielder. Bernier was what Toronto expected from De Guzman years before as the main passing route from the defense to attack. Bernier had the most passes to Impact forwards in 2012, even more than the more forward playing Felipe. I don't expect Bernier to score as many goals as in 2012, since six of his nine goals came from the penalty spot.
Felipe was a huge surprise in 2012 after being virtually an unknown in the lower leagues in Switzerland before joining the Impact. On the downside, Felipe was a leader in missed passes with over 300. He also used refereeing decisions to create some of his chances. I still think he'll play a significant role in 2013 but I would expect a statistical drop off. The other three midfielders have great experience in MLS veterans Justin Mapp, Davy Arnaud and new signing from Italy Andrea Pisanu. The Montreal midfield, like the rest of the team, is as much about holding their opponent as scoring, so expect the team to lead the league in fouls.
Montreal will have a great expectation in Italian forward Marco Di Vaio to score goals. Although he only scored five in 17 games last season, he averaged more than 12 goals per season for top teams in Europe against much stronger defenses than MLS. I expect Di Vaio to score goals and project him to get 14 this season if the team is set up in the fashion that I project based on the team’s playing similar systems around the world.
New signing Andres Romero might find a role as a second striker or an attacking midfielder, although the other Montreal substitutes don't necessarily fit the system and might get forgotten in this experiment. Sanna Nyassi was an offensive threat in 2012, but in the current system he might only be a potential substitute for Felipe or Di Vaio if they struggle. Andrew Wenger, Brovsky and Valentin would feel much more comfortable in a traditional MLS set up and, if I was in charge at another club, I would talk to Montreal about acquiring their services.
According to my projected statistics, I have Montreal scoring 43 goals while allowing 49 goals for a +/- of -6 or 14th overall in league. This takes into account that I only expect Nesta to play 2/3 of the Impact games, which exemplifies the biggest concern I have regarding the Impact experiment. It’s great to sign experienced players but in a restricted budget environment it is hard to be consistently good if your team lacks depth. Personally I like some of the moves the Impact have made, although I still predict Montreal to struggle to make the playoffs this season. The big worry is if the experiment doesn't pay off, with a club developed in this fashion, where do you go next?