MONTREAL â€” Ignacio (Nacho) Piatti is not setting a target on how many goals he will get this season but chances are he will score a lot.
The Argentine midfielder has 30 goals in 64 games â€” many of them spectacular â€” in a little more than two seasons with the Montreal Impact. He was at his best late in the 2016 campaign and into the playoffs when coach Mauro Biello found a formula that worked with him on the left side, Domenic Oduro on the right and Matteo Mancosu in the middle.
The three of them combined for 10 of Montreal’s 12 goals in five playoff games as the Impact reached the MLS Eastern Conference final, only to lose in extra time to Toronto FC.
“We have a good rapport and we did well together last year,” Piatti said Friday. “We hope to do well again this year.
“I hope that me, Matteo and Domenic score a lot of goals for the city and for the team, but we have to win. It doesn’t matter who scores the goals. We have to win games.”
Mancosu joined the Impact in mid-season on a one-year loan from Bologna FC in Italy and only became a fixture in the starting 11 late in the campaign when Biello opted to sit out since-departed star Didier Drogba.
Now the coach can get a chance to see what his new forward combination can do over a full season.
“We’re getting ready, but it’s Mauro who decides who plays,” said Piatti. “Maybe the three of us together will play together up front, I don’t know.
“It’s long season. But we did well.”
Unless the Impact acquires a forward, there are not a lot of experienced options at that spot. Behind Mancosu, the strikers are academy product Anthony Jackson-Hamel, sophomore Michael Salazar and this year’s first-round draft pick Nick DePuy.
At midfield Andres Romero, the team’s 2014 player of the year who is back after missing a full season with a knee injury, has started in the past on the right side and can also play in the middle where 37-year-old captain Patrice Bernier often resides. Rising 17-year-old Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla is pushing for playing time, although Biello wants to bring him along gradually.
The mix could change in June when Swiss international Blerim Dzemaili, a versatile midfielder, is due to arrive from Bologna.
There were fears over the off-season that the Impact would lose Piatti. Some top clubs in Argentina were reportedly making offers, but Impact president Joey Saputo said before the start of training camp that: “He’s under contract for a year and a half and I have absolutely no intention of selling the player or getting rid of the player.”
Piatti joined Montreal from the San Lorenzo club in August 2014 and made an immediate impression with four goals in six games.
He added another nine goals and eight assists the following season despite injury trouble and was named team MVP. He bumped that to 17 goals in 32 matches in 2016, taking the team best player award for a second straight year and being named to the MLS Best 11.
In the playoffs, Piatti and Mancosu each had four goals and two assists while Oduro had two goals and three helpers as Montreal beat D.C. United away in the knockout round and upset the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals before falling to Toronto.
Piatti clinched the New York series with a 51st-minute goal in the second leg when he beat defender Chris Duvall and fired a rocket past goalie Luis Robles.
Duvall now plays for the Impact, having been acquired in exchange for midfielder Johan Venegas from Minnesota, who had taken him in the expansion draft.
“My job specifically was to stop Nacho and clearly I didn’t do a good enough job of it, considering the results,” Duvall said with a laugh. “Our attackers are so talented.
“They’re all incredible finishers and very talented one on one.”
The team has an intrasquad game Saturday. They leave for St. Petersburg, Fla., on Tuesday for pre-season games against Chicago on Wednesday, D.C. on Feb. 18, Philadelphia on Feb. 22 and the second-tier Tampa Bay Rowdies on Feb. 25.
They open the regular season March 4 in San Jose and have their home opener March 11 at Olympic Stadium against the MLS champion Seattle Sounders.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press