MONTREAL — When Canada played its first game at its one and only trip to the World Cup in Mexico in 1986, it was against France and Joel Bats was the French goalkeeper.
Now Bats will see more Canadian soccer up close as part of new head coach Remi Garde’s staff with the Montreal Impact.
Garde named an all-French group of assistants on Wednesday, all but one with connections to his former club Lyon.
Bats is goalkeeping coach, Maxence Flachez is assistant coach and Robert Duverge is fitness coach, while Wilfried Nancy is the lone coach kept on from former head coach Mauro Biello’s staff. Garde, named head coach on Nov. 11, wanted at least one assistant with MLS experience and who knows the players.
Garde and Bats go back to 1989 when they were teammates for France. As coaches,they won a French Cup and supercup together in Lyon.
“I’m here because the last trophy I won in France was with Remi Garde,” said Bats, 61. “We won two trophies together and I came here to win another on the other side of the ocean. That’s my goal.”
In 1986, Bats was the easy-going, curly-mopped keeper for a powerhouse French side built around superstar Michel Platini. When European champion France was drawn into a first-round group that included Canada and the Soviet Union, he quipped “It’s good that we’re not playing ice hockey.”
But when the game was played in sweltering June heat in Leon, Mexico, Canada gave France a major scare on the soccer pitch before striker Jean-Pierre Papin got the game’s only goal for France in the second half.
“A difficult game, the first game of the competition,” Bats said. “And the weather was very hot. That’s all I remember.”
Canada lost its three group stage matches without scoring a goal, but did well to keep the games close. France reached the semifinals, losing to Germany, but Bats was involved in a wide quarter-final against Brazil in which he stopped scoring stars Zico and Socrates on penalty shots.
Now he hopes to help build top goalies for the Impact, as he did over 17 years in Lyon with French internationals like Gregory Coupet and Hugo Lloris.
After the coaches surveyed what Montreal had in goal, Garde announced that incumbent Evan Bush will begin the season as the starter with Clement Diop, claimed from the Los Angeles Galaxy in the waiver draft, as the backup. Homegrown goalies Jason Beaulieu and James Pantemis are still in development.
They are trying to find a team for last year’s backup Maxime Crepeau, who asked to be moved.
With camp set to open Jan. 22, the Impact roster is thin with no major signings so far and with the departures of Patrice Bernier, Ambroise Oyongo, Hassoun Camara, Andres Romero and others, plus the trade of top centreback Laurent Ciman to Los Angeles FC for a pair of fullbacks.
It will get even thinner with designated player Blerim Dzemaili’s request to return to Bologna, the Italian club that the Swiss international midfielder was on loan from since May.
Garde, who is not interested in keeping a player who wants out, said Dzemaili asked to go back for sporting and personal reasons. Reports in Italy said Dzemaili wants to stay close to his son in Europe after a split with his wife.
The Impact coach expects to start announcing signings in the coming days and weeks. The only possibility he named was French-born Algerian international Saphir Taider, a 25-year-old central midfielder for Bologna, which is owned by Impact president Joey Saputo.
Saputo is confident Garde will bring solid talent to the club.
“When you lose a player like Dzemaili you need a Plan B,” said Saputo. “It’s not necessarily something we wanted to happen, but there is a certain excitement.
“It allows us to make certain moves we want to make.”
He gave no details, but suggested one move may come at the MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 19. The Impact hold the fourth and seventh overall picks.