Changes beckoned from the moment Montréal investor/operator Joey Saputo guaranteed alterations back in May. It took Saputo a bit longer than expected to implement them given his reputation for upheaval, but the results on the field ultimately left him with no choice as the summer progressed.
The ties binding Saputo and sporting director Nick De Santis made the decision all the more difficult. De Santis played 10 seasons with the Impact and took control of the first team for another four years. He shepherded the side during its transition to MLS. And those links mattered a great deal to Saputo.
They could not, however, stop the inevitable reshuffling. Montreal scuffled through the first half of this season after making few alterations during the offseason. The gambit did not work. A return to the postseason now looks unlikely. The status quo simply would not suffice given the level of discontent surrounding the club at the moment.
After changing the coach three times in three seasons, Saputo knew what he needed to do. He removed De Santis from his role as sporting director and shifted him into an administrative role elsewhere in the organization on Wednesday.
"In business, the most difficult decisions to make are those made involving emotions," Saputo said in a statement released by the team. "This is why, today, I am forced to make this decision with a heavy heart. After twenty years of being part of the technical team as a player, successful coach and GM, it gives me great sadness to announce that Nick De Santis has been relieved from his functions."
Saputo filled the void in his byzantine power structure by shifting much of the responsibility for first-team matters to coach Frank Klopas. The former Chicago coach has won just three out of his first 20 matches in charge of the Impact, but he has somehow positioned himself well enough to assert more control over the players at his disposal.
Klopas’ ascent — a move highlighted by the deal to acquire former Chicago winger Dilly Duka on Tuesday — provides an opportunity for the Impact to consolidate power and strip away some of the fractured processes used to render decisions in the past. It is a necessary step for a club accustomed from lurching idea to idea without any sort of cohesive vision.
Montréal sits in the same position as Toronto FC did a year ago: This club desperately requires a defined and streamlined chain of command moving forward to provide stability.
The concept isn’t entirely lost on the Impact at this stage. The modest turnover within the ranks during the close season acknowledged the need for it, but the paucity of talent within the ranks undermined the efforts. This restructuring effort should have a more lasting impact.
Saputo stripped away some of the frills by reassigning De Santis and shunting most of the responsibility toward Klopas. He also highlighted his desire to honor Klopas’ contract through the end of next season and said he wanted to provide Klopas with a chance to build his own team.
It is a peculiar decision to consolidate power in a coach with such a modest record in charge of the club, but it does represent a necessary step for the Impact. Montréal remains a team in need of a clear hierarchy, a firm direction and a technical staff capable of implementing it without meddling. This move – whether it works or not – represents a move in the right direction for a club with serious retooling on the horizon. It is now incumbent on the Impact to follow the course through in order to reap the desired benefits.