By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, March 11, 2016
For FC Montreal attacking midfielder Alessandro Riggi, the difference between the first and second halves of the club’s first season in the USL was as clear as night and day.
“Before, it was mostly ‘let’s try to play individually well to try and improve for us to move up,’” Riggi said recently. “After half of the season we became a lot stronger as a team, as a unit. We understood the importance of chemistry, of brotherhood and the bond of a team. We started playing for each other, and we started doing great.”
With a group of players for whom 2015 was their first professional season, Montreal’s growing pains were evident as the side made its way against older and more experienced opposition. At times, the side would play well, but mental mistakes would cost the team dearly as it took just one win in its first 14 games.
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As the season entered its second half, however, Coach Philippe Eullaffroy’s side appeared transformed, as it reeled off six wins out of eight to move out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference. The side’s new-found confidence, and a returning squad that learned a lot last year, has Riggi excited for what the new season will hold.
“The chemistry is still here,” Riggi said. “We have a few more tests coming up against Rochester and Ottawa Fury as well, and those will be good tests for everything the squad has done so far. We’ll be able to measure ourselves ahead of the start of the season. I think we’re looking strong. We’re looking sharp. It’s looking good. We’re an exciting group this year.”
Riggi was one of Montreal’s most exciting players a year ago as he led the club with nine goals, and also chipped in two assists. While he was happy to lead the team in scoring, Riggi wasn’t satisfied with his overall performance, as the realities of going up against professional defenses hit home.
“You grow up seeing your coach tell you, ‘when you get your chance, you have to score,’ and you say, ‘yeah, yeah,’” Riggi said. “When you’re never in those circumstances, you’re not too sure, but you always think you’re going to get another one. At this level, it’s a level where you may only get one [chance] in 90 minutes, and when you get it it’s important to help your team by scoring.”
With not only Riggi, but Jacques Haman, Fabio Morelli and Charles Joly all set to return this season, Montreal’s attack will be looking to pick up where it left off last year, and show greater decisiveness in front of goal. With Eullaffroy leading the way from the sidelines, Riggi believes the team will find new levels of play over the course of this season thanks to the demands the French coach places on players.
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“He tests you on every single level, mentally, physically, emotionally,” Riggi said. “I don’t know if he even realizes it or not, but he helps you understand why you’re doing well, why you’re doing badly. He knows what to say for you to start doing better, and he brings the best out of everybody. As a group that’s very, very important.”
After making positive progress in the club’s inaugural season, the next landmark for the team is now clear for Riggi and his teammates.“It would be to clinch a playoff spot, and make some noise in the playoffs,” he said. “We want to try and go and win it at the end, but obviously now our focus is to take it one game at a time, and definitely get a playoff spot for this year. We want to continue how we finished last season, so if we can start like that and be consistent all season, I think there could be some pretty awesome surprises from this team.”