MONTREAL â€” Having Andres Romero back after missing an entire season will be almost like adding a new player for the Montreal Impact.
The Argentine midfielder feels at home in Impact blue and black, having been with the club for four years and winning the Guiseppe Saputo Trophy as the team’s most valuable player in 2014.
“I’m not 100 per cent yet but I feel very good and I’m very happy to be here with the group,” Romero said Tuesday after a 90-minute workout with his teammates on the synthetic turf at Olympic Stadium. “It was difficult. It was my first injury like this and I hope it was my last, but that part is gone and I’m looking forward.”
Romero, 27, hasn’t played in a game that counts since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a game in Denver on Oct. 14, 2015. He was supposed to be out between six and nine months, but last August the club announced he would miss the rest of the season.
He still feels some soreness when he gets up in the morning, but he is able to train without any problems and is aiming to be ready for the regular season opener March 4 in San Jose.
“He’s been in every training, he worked hard and he did well in the testing,” said coach Mauro Biello. “We’re very happy with how he’s progressed.
“It’s normal that you don’t find your rhythm right away after not playing for more than a year, so we want to be patient. But we also want to bring him along because we know he can help the team when he’s at 100 per cent.”
Now the question is where he will fit back into the puzzle. While he was away, the Impact took their biggest steps forward since joining Major League Soccer in 2012.
Montreal reached the second round of the 2015 playoffs before losing to Columbus. The Impact followed that with a trip with the 2016 Eastern Conference final, where they lost to Toronto FC in overtime.
Late last season, Biello found a winning combination up front with Ignacio Piatti on the left side, Dominic Oduro on the right and newcomer Matteo Mancuso in the middle.
Romero, an attacking midfielder, may have a battle on his hands for playing time. Biello is confident that Romero will end up getting his share of minutes on the field.
“We know he can play out wide in both positions and he likes to come inside when he plays out wide,” the third-year coach said, adding that Romero could also be an inside midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation. “He has the ability to beat you on the dribble or make a final pass.
“His work rate is very good. If you want to play in the middle you need that. We’re trying him in different positions. We want to bring him along, but he becomes a very good option once he’s 100 per cent.”
The Impact are a little short of experienced midfielders with the departure of Harry Shipp. They also traded Johan Venegas to Minnesota for former New York Red Bulls right back Chris Duvall, who had been taken in the expansion draft.
Romero joined the Impact on loan from Brazilian club Tombense in 2013 but didn’t really stand out until the team’s first MLS playoff game, a 3-0 loss in Houston, when he started a melee and was shown the red card. But he bounced back the next season with six goals and strong play overall.
He added four more goals in 2015, plus two in CONCACAF Champions League play, before his injury. Now he hopes to rejoin the Impact’s Argentine connection, which includes starters Piatti, midfielder Hernan Bernardello and central defender Victor Cabrera.
“Last year was a great year for the team,” said Romero. “I was happy because they deserved it and I’m looking forward to doing the same this year.”
The Impact are training at the Big O before heading to St. Petersburg, Fla. next week for a series of pre-season matches. Left back Ambroise Oyongo, who started all six games as Cameroon won the African Cup of Nations, is expected to join them in Florida.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press