With the 2014 season kicking off this weekend, the Montréal Impact are looking to accomplish a second stellar season. Making the playoffs in only their second MLS season was nothing short of extraordinary. There is no doubt that the Impact can go equally as far this year as well.
Here are a few players to keep an eye on;
1- Marco Di Vaio
The skepticism surrounding the signing of Di Vaio to the Impact was short lived, and for all the right reasons. The prolific striker scored a whopping 20 goals in 27 games in his first full season with the Impact, placing him on the league’s top striker podium. This amounts to 4 times the number of goals scored by any other Impact player in 2013. Playing with the offside trap in order to fall off the opponent’s radar is undoubtedly one of his favorite tactics. Don’t stop reacting to runs because he was caught offside 3 times in the last 10 minutes; he’ll slip in through the center when the flag stays down, and you just lost 3 points. With nearly half of his total shots registered on target last year, you know this striker means business.
2- Troy Perkins
From one end of the field to the other, Montréal has it covered. Perkins is minding the Impact net again this season, and if last year’s performance serves as evidence, the Impact will have nothing to worry about in regards to the back. His league high 109 saves in 2013 may hint towards certain defensive issues, but it ultimately means one thing; rain or snow, he’s there when you need him. Leadership, composure, and proper command of the back four are the exact qualities you look for in a keeper, and Perkins possesses each of these listed. Free kicks, corner kicks, counter attacks; bring it on. Perkins is no stranger to flying bullets.
3- Patrice Bernier
Captain my captain! Ready for action, the versatile midfielder Patrice Bernier is looking to lead his squad to the playoffs for a second year in a row. The ‘general’ never misses the net from the penalty spot and with a team high 8 assists last season, you see why he was chosen to sport the armband. Leader by example, the Impact made the right decision to select him as team captain for the 2014 campaign. His emphasis on progression and attention to detail, specifically in the transition game, make him the ideal candidate to lead the ball hungry Impact to victory.
The Montréal Impact will be in action on Saturday 20:30 eastern time, when they kick off their season away against FC Dallas at the Toyota Stadium.
Tim Howard has been Team USA's first choice keeper since after the 2007 Gold Cup, where he alternated starts with legendary American keeper Kasey Keller. Howard had previously traveled to the 2006 World Cup in Germany as Keller's replacement but failed to make an appearance throughout the three matches played.
The Everton keeper has since then become the undisputed starting goalkeeper for the Yanks, with Aston Villa's Brad Guzan being the only one to even come close at dethroning Howard. Guzan was a surprise pick by Chivas USA in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft and quickly became a star, making a deserved move to the Premier League in 2008.
Guzan arrived to Aston Villa as the backup for another legendary American keeper with the same first name, Brad Friedel. Since Friedel's departure from Villa and arrival at Tottenham Hotspur, 29-year-old Guzan cemented himself as the number one choice between the sticks at the Premier League club, although spent a little time as understudy to Shay Given before establishing himself fully.
Howard and Guzan will undoubtedly be Klinsmann's first choices for goalie at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil; but who will take the reins as the third-choice keeper? With a handful of goalkeepers at Klinsy's disposal, the German tactician will surely have trouble making up his mind on whether to use Troy Perkins, Marcus Hahnemann, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando, or even Luis Robles, as the third-string goalie.
Real Salt Lake's Rimando is by far the best choice for Klinsy, with the 34-year old leading the Stars and Stripes to a 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup championship. Rimando has been capped 12 times and was used in every match during the Gold Cup that ended in a championship match victory over Panama.
During said Gold Cup, Johnson of the Chicago Fire was the second-string goalkeeper and had his first senior squad start with a clean slate against Costa Rica during the tournament. Johnson originally had his first senior cap as a substitute in a friendly against Chile in 2011.
Robles, at 29-years-old, is four years older than Johnson but has reached his full potential at a much later stage of his career. His only cap for the senior team was in the 2009 Gold Cup during a 2-2 draw against Haiti but his current run of form with the New York Red Bulls could very well see him get another chance at the national team's goalie position.
Since the third-choice keeper is rarely ever used, especially not in a World Cup, experience in the locker room might be what the US need instead of a young and undeveloped goalie like Johnson or Robles. With two World Cups as a third-choice keeper under his belt already (2006 & 2010), 41-year-old Hahnemann of the Seattle Sounders might be exactly what Klinsmann is looking for in a third-string keeper.
Perkins (32) from the Montreal Impact is another goalie that recently had an excellent MLS season and with seven USMNT caps already, Klinsmann shouldn't overlook this rising talent. However, with Rimando making an MLS Cup final appearance alongside his Real Salt Lake teammates, it seems as if the 2013 domestic league runner-up will win the USMNT's third-choice keeper "Russian Roulette".