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Impact drawing on Canadian content as academy graduates get playing time

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MONTREAL - When the injury-depleted Montreal Impact took the field in Vancouver this week, there were four Canadians in the starting 11.

That would not have been a big deal in the past when the Impact played in the USL or the NASL and locals like Mauro Biello and Nevio Pizzolitto were key players, but it was a first since they joined Major League Soccer in 2012.

More importantly, the Canadians did well on the field.

Left back Karl Ouimette and midfielders Patrice Bernier, Issey Nakajima-Ferran and Maxim Tissot helped the Impact pick up a valuable point on the road in the 0-0 draw that saw Tissot miss the best chance of the match when his shot from the edge of the penalty area struck the bar.

"For young players, when you get a chance, you've got to take it," Tissot said Friday. "Karl played a great game and when Wandrille Lefevre and (American rookie) Erik Miller went in, they played well.

"That's what we have to do, us young players. Bring a lot of energy when we go in."

First-year coach Frank Klopas, a Greek-American, has not been shy to use the team's Canadian content.

Bernier, of Brossard, Que., is the team captain and has been a starter since he joined the Impact for its MLS debut three seasons ago. Calgary native Nakajima-Ferran was an experienced MLS player when he arrived last month in a trade with Toronto FC for midfielder Collen Warner.

But Tissot and Ouimette are graduates of the team's academy who are still establishing themselves in North America's top league.

Tissot, of Gatineau, Que., has played in six of the team's 14 league games and started three this season. Ouimette, of Repentigny, Que., has started seven and went in as a substitute in another. French-born Lefevre, whose family moved to Montreal when he was 14, has started in five of six appearances.

"It's nice to see that the academy kids can come in and perform and that they're trusted in a game that wasn't easy," said Bernier, who started his pro career with the Impact in 2000, then went to Europe for a decade. "Especially in Vancouver, against a team that has a lot of offensive power.

"To come out of that with a zero and a solid performance, it's great. It shows the development of Canadian players is going in the right direction."

Two other academy grads, goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau of Candiac, Que., and midfielder Zakaria Messoudi of Montreal, have yet to play this season. Messoudi has been on loan to Ottawa of the NASL.

Montreal was missing some key players in Vancouver, as striker Marco Di Vaio and midfielders Justin Mapp and Sanna Nyassi were injured, while midfielder Felipe stayed home as his wife gave birth to a son.

Felipe, Mapp and possibly Di Vaio may return when the Impact play host to the Houston Dynamo on Sunday night, which could put Tissot back on the bench. Nakajima-Ferran injured a hamstring and will miss the match.

Tissot is listed as a defender, but played left midfield in Vancouver. He lost a couple of balls needlessly, but also looped some useful passes into the area, as well as getting one clear crack at a goal.

"At the back, we're working on him to get better defensively, but in the midfield, he has the ability to make runs on the weak side and join in the attack," Klopas said of Tissot. "In the games we put him in, he always seems to create chances.

"We feel in the midfield he can bring more, so we put him in a situation where he can be successful."

Klopas got his first look at Tissot when he was coaching the Chicago Fire last season. The Fire were leading 2-1 at home on Sept. 28 when Tissot's first MLS goal in the 87th minute gave the visiting Impact a draw.

"I remember," said Klopas. "I'm glad I'm here now and I have a chance to coach these young players.

"It's good for the club. It shows that if you work hard and are committed, you'll get opportunities. When you invest in an academy, you've got to produce players because these guys, they get it. They're from here and they know what it is to put that jersey on. We have to build the nucleus from that and then add pieces from the outside that can make the team better."

The 2-7-5 Impact, who have made a flurry of moves in the past two months, made another this week when they cut defender Meshack Jerome and added Polish left back Krzyztof Krol, who once played for Klopas in Chicago.

Krol is due to arrive on Sunday but will not officially join the team until the transfer window opens on July 8.

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