Montreal Impact goalkeeper Matt Jordan
Photos by Pepe courtesy of the Montreal Impact

2/12/2009
By Vijay Setlurconcacaf.com

The face of Montreal Impact coach John Limniatis is enough to understand his mindset.

His intensity is evident as the Montreal Impact train in anticipation of their upcoming CONCACAF Champions league quarterfinal series against Mexico’s Santos Laguna.

Montreal hosts the first leg at Olympic Stadium on February 25 before what will be a franchise-record crowd. The game marks the first time an international match will take place in Montreal in the winter.

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Both clubs then head down to Torreon, Mexico, for the second leg on March 5.

The Impact could be forgiven for simply relishing its quarterfinal appearance. Instead, despite Montreal’s league season not beginning until April 18, the club starting preparing at the start of the year. It opened with three weeks of training in the Montreal area, including three friendly matches, jetted to Fiorenza, where it has played local Italian clubs and will remain until Friday.

“We are focused,” forward Rocco Placentino told impactmontreal.com. “We have to think on doing well here because we have an important game on February 25. The next few weeks will be a sequence of improvements until that game.

“The coaching staff is motivating us a lot. We may have said Santos Laguna 25 times since our arrival, just to understand well why we are here. It’s not a vacation. We are here to prepare ourselves and do well against that Mexican team.”

The Impact hopes for a dividend against a club that is in form and in the midst of the Mexican Clausura season.

Few gave Montreal a chance to advance out of the group stage, exemplified by some teams fielding mostly second-choice lineups.

But the club from North America’s United Soccer Leagues First Division capitalized against two of the top teams in CONCACAF, Atlante and CD Olimpia, to finish second in Group B, leading until an away loss to Atlante in the final game denied it first place.

Limniatis, a former Impact defender, gets much of the credit, taking over the club last year in mid-season.

Americans Tony Donatelli and Joey Gjertsen and Argentine Leonardo Di Lorenzo spearheaded the team’s midfield, with the U.S. duo scoring five of the team’s 11 goals through the Group Stage of the Champions League.

Panamanian forward Roberto Brown accounted for three goals by himself. Center backs Nevio Pizzolitto and Stefano Pesoli have been the anchors of a bend-but-don’t-break defense that has appeared vulnerable but been effective.

But the key has been goalkeeper Matt Jordan, the team’s player of the year in 2008, who repeatedly made saves to preserve points.

He’ll be back to lead the Impact thanks to a two-year contract extension.

Jordan’s re-signing was the highlight of several winter transactions that kept the lineup intact.

The Impact also extended the contracts of Donatelli, Pizzolitto,Pesoli and Brown. The club also brought back Cuban-born Eduardo Sebrango to bolster the offense.

Montreal will come in with the disadvantage of not having played a meaningful game since October 28 – the last group stage game at Atlante. But it should get a boost from a Montreal crowd that will at least exceed the 42,000 in already announced ticket sales.

The Impact normally play before capacity crowds of 13,000 at the adjacent Stade Saputo. The club is encouraging supporters to wear blue, and the closed roof will make for a noisy and raucous atmosphere.

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