Are you really excited to see Montréal play in Houston after eliminating Alajuelense Tuesday night? Honestly? I mean, I love l'Impact - but even I can't get worked up for this. It just seems so... tame. Sure, I remember 2013. I remember beating Houston 2-0 and then 5-0 at Stade Saputo only to lose to them in the play-offs. I remember Brian Ching, choosing Houston over Montréal. This must be how Parisians felt after their Champions League series with Chelsea, then returning to Ligue 1. We're Champions League finalists, now we get to go play... Houston.
Our players are mostly new, and all but a few (like Maxim Tissot and Patrice Bernier) even recall our heated rivalry from two seasons ago. Will this be a game where they will put everything on the line to keep momentum going? Maybe, and now that we're Champions League finalists we have to face the boring reality that there are still MLS games to play. A lot of them left, in fact, and if we're going to prioritize taking on Club America, a trip to Houston might be more about getting some playing time for our rotational players and lesser used tactical formations rather than aiming for a victory. Sure, Frank Klopas still might field the line-up we used against Alajuelense - but I doubt it. We need to regroup and look at some new strategies. Now is the time to do it.
So, with that in mind let's take a look at what to expect in Saturday's match against the Houston Dynamo.
Where can I watch?
TVA Sports will broadcast the match in French, and TSN690 in English on the radio. MLS Live will carry a feed of an American station. TVA Sports did an amazing job covering the last few games, so I would highly recommend giving them a chance (even if you don't speak French that well). Seriously, it's ten times better than last season.
What's on the line?
3 points is 3 points, but we're probably riding a high from advancing to the Champions League finals right now, and that is certainly our priority. However, we now have a reputation to uphold. We are not just l'Impact de Montréal. We are l'Impact de Montréal: Champions League finalists. Winning is kind of what we do. Frank Klopas knows that he needs to keep his players in the right mindset, and getting them confidence is exactly how he will do that. Montréal will play to win, but they will probably field a group of experience and youth that looks very different from Tuesday's line-up.
Luckily, Houston are bringing up the rear of the Western Conference, with only 5 points from 5 matches (1-2-2). We have played a much higher intensity than them (Pachuca and Alajuelense) and have more games in competition (7 total) than they do. Houston know this, and will probably field their best players against le bleu-blanc-noir.
This line-up features the tandem attack of Boniek and Giles Barnes, which are pretty hit-and-miss if you ask me. Personally, I find their midfield to be the major issue for Montréal: Brad Davis is a machine and with Sturgis and Clark occupying those central roles, we'll be hard pressed to run the central channel. They will be looking to shut down our central defensive midfield pairings, and Davis is dangerous in that role.
Keys to Victory:
Patience. The Dynamo are a team in a hurry. They need to pick up the pieces of the last few games, and they need to do it now. They'll be in a rush to pin the Impact early (just like Alajuelense) and they'll probably aim for midfield possession. For what it's worth, our style of play is perfect against a team like Houston. Hanging back and counter-attacking when a gap in the opposing lines appears is a style that suits players like Eric Alexander and Marco Donadel perfectly. We can bunker and counter against Houston when a gap appears in their lines, or when they congregate in the midfield and open their flanks. Maxim Tissot, who has experience as a winger and a defender will be ideal in this situation to take care of the flanks. I am fully expecting Dominic Oduro to sit this one out, and for Jack McInerney to start. Oduro took a beating on Tuesday night and he will probably need a week to regain his composure. I forsee Piatti starting, but he will probably only play the first half. He is our biggest asset (outside Laurent Ciman) and risking injury to him would doom our chances in the Champions League. I envision the following line-up:
I think we're going to start seeing more of Hassoun Camara as well. If there is one thing Tuesday's match told us about CONCACAF Champions League play, it's that literally anything goes. Kick the keeper? No problem. Choke hold Piatti? Ref doesn't care. Camara would be ideal in this situation where his habit of 'loose' tackling will be acceptable. But he needs to bring the poise he had in 2013 back. To do that, he needs games. I think not only will he start against Houston, but he'll start against Club America as well.
I also think Bernier and Donadel will start playing together. Donadel has much better tackling abilities than Nigel Reo-Coker, even if he is slower. His skills from years in Serie A are evident, and if he can speed his game up he will be one of the best central defensive midfielders in the MLS. Patrice Bernier can help him with that tempo.
I am unsure if Eric Kronberg will be making an appearance this game. He did not exactly have the best game when he last started. However, Evan Bush has been tackled a few times in the last week (and pelted with batteries, shoes and garbage) so he might be looking to get some rest and recover his confidence. I will say Bush starts, but I would not be surprised to be wrong.
Honestly, I have no idea. This can go either way, depending on whether we're riding the high from Tuesday or feeling the pain of travel. I'm an eternal optimist, and have learned that when the Impact get going they can crush Houston. I will say 2-1 for the Impact. See video below for my reasons: