MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact are looking for a top level coach that they hope can take them to new heights in Major League Soccer.
The Impact fired coach Mauro Biello and his staff on Monday, a day after closing out a dismal ninth-place season with a 3-2 loss at home at the New England Revolution.
Team president and owner Joey Saputo said he hopes to name a new coach within three weeks to evaluate the roster and decide which players should stay or go.
Saputo wants a coach with at least five years experience at European first division level who has won a championship, which suggests a big name coach and a major investment for the club.
"There's so much parity in this league, I think an experienced coach, like a designated player, can make the difference," said Saputo. "We realize that if we want to continue to be competitive, if we want our academy to grow, if we want our designated players to take accountability, if we want our younger players to be held accountable and also to grow, I think that we need to look beyond what we have right now in North America.
"We've always invested in players, in the organization, in the structure. Now we realize that in order to go to the next level we need to invest in a coach. I'm not going to tell you the names of the coaches we've spoken to, but once we name the coach you'll realize that it isn't like anything we've had before."
He has already interviewed, either in person or over the phone, several candidates from Europe and South America. The new coach will either speak French or be willing to learn the language in order to fit into the Montreal market.
Biello, who has been with the club as a player or coach since its inception in 1993, took over from Frank Klopas as head coach on Aug. 30, 2015 just before they went on a run to their first Eastern Conference semifinal appearance. Last season, he led them to a conference final, where they lost in overtime to Toronto FC.
After making few off-season changes, the Impact struggled from the outset. They were particularly guilty of throwing away points by conceding late goals and being scored on off set pieces. Their 12-17-6 record for 39 points was their second-worse since joining MLS in 2012, ahead only of their 28 points in 2014 under their last European coach, Marco Schallibaum.
Saputo said he began to be concerned in April, and was "very concerned" by June when he had a meeting with Biello and decided to give him the rest of the season to sort out the team's troubles. Soon after, he had feelers out in Europe to find what coaches were available.
"I talked to Mauro after the game (on Sunday) and told him we were going in another direction," said Saputo. "There will always be a place for Mauro in the organization, but I can't tell you now what.
"It's up to the new coach to decide who he wants in his entourage."
He wasn't so kind in his assessment of Biello's coaching this season.
He said the objectives were to manage games better, to defend set pieces better, to give up fewer goals and to hold players accountable. He said losing 10 points by conceding in the 90th minute of games, allowing 23 goals off set pieces, allowing five more goals against than last year and having some apparent dissension on the team left Biello 0-for-4.
None of the players would go into detail on behind the scenes problems.
"There were things that happened in the dressing room that we will keep to ourselves, but that weren't good this year," said defender Hassoun Camara.
Midfielder Blerim Dzemaili said there was a problem with the mentality on the team
"Now we're here speaking about Mauro leaving us — he's leaving us also because of our mistakes," said the Swiss international. "This begins with the mentality every day.
"It has to be changed. Whoever comes in has to change it. Otherwise we're not going forward. We're just staying where we are. So I hope this is the next step."
Players were quick to defend Biello.
"If anything, guys wanted to play harder for Mauro because he deserved that," said goalkeeper Evan Bush. "As a group we didn't get it done for him.
"That's something we'll regret because he was a great guy and he worked his butt off. He worked harder and longer than any of the other coaches that were here before him. From that standpoint, there was no reason we would quit on him. It just didn't turn out the way we wanted."
Biello was the team's fourth head coach in six MLS seasons.
Also let go were assistant coaches Jason Di Tullio and Wilfried Nancy as well as goalie coach Jack Stern.
Saputo also wants to improve the team's revenue. While having a payroll in the top third of the league, he said the club was 16th in gross gate receipts and 17th in season ticket sales, which were at about 10,000 this year.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press