The signing of Canadian national team midfielder Samuel Piette adds to the growing local flavour on the Montreal Impact.
The native of Repentigny, Que., who signed a two-and-a-half year contract with an option for 2020 on Thursday, gives the club seven players from Quebec.
They include midfielders Patrice Bernier and Ballou Tabla and forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel, who play regularly. Back-up goalkeeper Max Crepeau and midfielders Louis Beland-Goyette and David Choiniere are also on the squad. That's not to mention defender Wandrille Lefevre, who was born in France but moved to Montreal as a teenager and is considered a "homegrown" player.
That's almost as many as the Impact had in the two decades in other leagues before they joined MLS in 2012, when their current head coach Mauro Biello, assistant coach Jason Di Tullio, technical director Adam Braz, vice-president Nick de Santis and other locals were key members of the squad.
"That sense of belonging is key and that feeling of representing a city and a team is important," said Biello. "Having a player like Sam will help in all those aspects."
Unlike the others who mainly came up through the team's academy, Piette had no previous ties to the Impact. He moved to Europe as a teenager and was playing for CD Izarra in Spain's third tier. The Impact opened transfer talks after Piette's impressive play in a defensive midfield role for Canada at the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament in the United States.
The 22-year-old Piette was delighted to move back home.
"It means a lot for me to be here," the five-foot-seven midfielder said. "I'm just waiting to play my first game.
"I've only heard great things about Montreal. I was roommates with Anthony Jackson with the national team. I'm very good friends with Patrice Bernier and Maxime Crepeau, so they helped me with my decision to come here."
Piette is still reasonably fit after the Gold Cup and Biello did not rule him out for Montreal's home game Saturday against Orlando.
Talk of repatriating Piette began with his strong performance in a friendly match against Curacao at Saputo Stadium on June 13, and negotiations started after Canada was ousted by Jamaica in the Gold Cup quarter-finals.
Braz did not say how much he paid for the transfer or how much Piette will earn, but the deal went through quickly and smoothly. Targeted allocation money was not used.
"Things were going well in Spain, it's just that Montreal showed big interest," said Piette. "The fact that I had my family and friends here played a big part also, but I was just looking at my career and I think it was the right moment to come to MLS and especially to Montreal."
Piette, a tireless worker on the field, adds youth to a team whose regular defensive midfielders, Italian Marco Donadel and Argentine Hernan Bernardello, are in their 30s.
"I'm a very physical player who likes to win balls," he said. "I'm not the player that's going to do crazy stuff and put on a show."
Biello said Piette "likes to do the dirty work and he's really good at it.
"We're an offensive team and we need players in those roles where they're able to help us defensively. On the offensive side, he's very simple in his build up. He's very effective."
Piette played 46 games in Spain in the last two years, including 32 with CD Izarra. He joined Deportivo La Coruna in 2014 and spent a season on loan with Racing de Ferrol in 2015-2016. He previously played in Germany with Fortuna Dusseldorf, appearing in two Bundesliga games as well as 31 with the youth team.
He played his youth soccer in Boisbriand, Que., before joining FC Metz in France in 2009 under a partnership with the Quebec Soccer Federation.
Piette has two assists in 35 international games. He earned his first cap at 17 in 2012 against the U.S.
He is the third player acquired in the current transfer window along with Jamaican left back Shaun Francis and Romanian centre back Deian Boldor, which gives the Impact a full roster. Braz said it was unlikely they will add another international signing and that any further move would be through a trade. Talks around the league are expected to heat up with the window closing on Aug. 10.