Are you excited? You should be. This is big. This is really big. Honestly, this is the most important match in the history of the Montréal Impact. I'm still reeling from the win against Alajuelense last month. It was impressive, stunning and the best game the Impact have played since their entry into MLS.
But this is going to be a rough trip. Alajuelense were coming off several losses before the last match, and might have been demoralized. They were also coming into a frigid Montréal where -10 degrees celcius was normal (we call it 'spring' here). Now we're playing in their domain. It's hot, humid and unfriendly. Costa Ricans are passionate fans, and they're going to turn Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto into a fortress. We have the advantage now, but will it be enough? We all remember 2009 well enough, when a two goal victory evaporated before us in Mexico. Let's hope we can finally move on from the past.
Where can I watch?
TVA Sports en français. Sportsnet World in English. TSN690 on the radio. I listened to the last match against Costa Rica on TSN690 in English. It's actually really good, I highly advise listening if you (like me) don't have basic cable and MLS Live has again failed you. Side note: TSN690 has better commentary than any of the American streams on MLS Live for MLS games as well.
What's on the line?
You mean other than a trip to the Champions League finals and the opportunity to go to the FIFA Club World Cup? Sarcasm aside, this match is huge. No Canadian team has ever made it this far in the Champions League before, and none have ever downed a Mexican team. We have made history here, and winning this game will be the continuation of that effort. So, immortal glory as the team that made history (marquons l'histoire) and the title of best team in North America.
We saw last month that this team likes to play speedy football along the channels, and doesn't shirk away from the attack. Their defense is weak however, and they are vulnerable on the counter attack. I'm going to play it safe and say that they use the same line-up as before, since an injured Impact will be less dangerous to their central midfield pairings than at our last encounter.
Keeper: D. Lewis
Defense: L. Peralta, P. López, K. Gutiérrez, J. Acosta
Midfield: J. Venegas, A. Alonso, O. Rodríguez, E. Rodríguez
Forward: J. McDonald, J. Ortiz
Expect Ortiz and McDonald to put on a show for the home crowd. They've found their scoring habits again recently, with a 6-0 win over Belén Siglo XXI and a 2-1 victory over Pérez Zeledón in the last three weeks.
Keys to Victory:
I'd like to focus on a single match in the last month, and most importantly, their most recent. Alajuelense went in fast and hard against Cartaginés over the Easter Weekend in the Primera División and lost. They were punished along the wings, and against a weak back-line that couldn't stop quick transitions to a counter attack. The minute Ortiz and McDonald become isolated up top, the entire team falls apart. We need to exploit that. It's a job for Duka, Piatti and Oduro. Romero should hopefully get some minutes as well, since the team appears to be healing nicely after the injuries of the last two months.
Probable Starting XI:
I'm partial to Donadel, I won't lie. I think he's excellent in his role as a central defensive midfielder, and I would field him. I'd wager that he will start. Toia has really become the diamond in the rough for this team, and will absolutely start at left back. Oyongo might as well not exist at this point, Toia is our guy. Right back is the only space where I see a big question mark. Hassoun Camarra is excellent, but prone to fits of emotion that can charitably be described as immature. Victor Cabrera is an excellent defender, but we've ceded three goals through the weaker right side of defense in 2015, and he is a big part of that. My bet is that coach Frank Klopas will want to play it safe, and stick with someone who won't cause a red card situation, especially with the reffing in Central America being suspect. One last thing, will Jack McInerney start this match as a forward? Probably. However, Andres Romero can play both as a forward and as an attacking midfielder. If Oduro continues to impress as a winger, I would not hesitate to substitute (or replace) JackMac with the 2014 MVP.
Pretty standard formation for the Impact, and I doubt there will be any shocking changes from Klopas to start the match. I still think we could see Romero become the Impact's go-to striker, but with McInerney earning himself a goal of the week on mlssoccer.com, I'm not sure his transition will be against Alajuelense.
This is going to be tough, and I remember 2009 when we went into Mexico with a 2-0 victory behind us. However, this is a new team, with confidence and an excellent pedigree. We also have Ignacio Piatti and Laurent Ciman, two players who I have learned to never underestimate. I'll say 2-1 victory for Montréal, and a trip to the CONCACAF Champions League finals.