One day to go!
No-one quite knows what joys or disappointments the dawning of a new MLS season will bring.
At Montreal Impact HQ there’s cautious optimism, made somewhat more uncertain this week by Zakaria Diallo’s untimely Achilles injury. The player had looked classy, composed and competent in preseason, but Impact now must contemplate facing the Whitecaps and old striking foe, Kei Kamara, Sunday, with just one recognized center-back available.
Much pressure will fall on Victor Cabrera, now Montreal’s main pivot in the center of a back-line drilled constantly in the art of defending in rigorous preseason training camp sessions. It’s likely that Cabrera would have started Sunday’s game anyhow, but with the partner he spent playing minutes with in preseason now unavailable, it will be a new side-kick accompanying the Argentinian. And not one who is a recognized center-back either!
That’s unless Rémi Garde goes with the inexperienced Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, which seems unlikely as the youngster was sent on-loan to Ottawa Fury on Wednesday.
Finnish international Jukka Raitala is favoured to get the nod alongside Cabrera, with Daniel Lovitz slotting into a familiar left-back berth. His full-back partner on the opposite flank looks certain to be Michael Petrasso, the recent arrival from England’s Queen’s Park Rangers.
For Vancouver, Uruguayan Cristian Techera and Kei Kamara, look sure to provide a testing afternoon for the untried Montreal rearguard, which will clearly be hoping their side’s defensive shape will restrict ball-supply to the Vancouver front men.
Sierra-Leonean, Kamara, a new Whitecaps capture from New England Revolution has previous form against Montreal. He’s plundered 8 goals in his last 10 starts against the Bleu, Blanc, Noir, including on three occasions, recording a brace. Cabrera and Raitala will need to be on their toes.
But there is optimism within the visiting side’s camp. “With a new coaching staff, and new players, it felt like we started from zero,” midfielder Samuel Piette said Tuesday. “But the team has to be ready because the championship starts Sunday and it doesn’t stop. I’m confident with the players and staff we have.”
Impact’s most seasoned performer Evan Bush adds, “Every year there are teams that rise to the occasion and there’s no reason we can’t.”
Impact will rely on a familiar source for goals in Ignacio Piatti, likely to form part of a five-man midfield, and Matteo Mancosu for whom a return to form is long overdue.
Expect to see Raheem Edwards make a competitive debut wide right, along with Piette and Tadir anchoring midfield. The last place will likely go to Jeisson Vargas, if healthy again.
Should Montreal line-up as expected, as many as five new players will make their competitive debuts for the club.
Insider look at the opponent
Relatively speaking, Vancouver, are healthier, coming off a successful season where they finished just outside the top two in the Western Conference, in which they reached the Play-off semi-finals.
They are not without changes too, however. Coach, Carl Robinson, not that long ago in the running to be next Wales national team manager, was quick to identify that an exodus of experience needed to be addressed.
Out went, Jordan Harvey, Matias Laba, Christian Bolanos and probably most notably, Fredy Montero. In came, Kamara, Sean Franklin (from DC United) and former Mexican international, Efrain Juarez (from Liga MX club Monterrey).
“(Experience) is very important. The senior players I’ve brought in this year have got the experience of (being) used to winning,” said Robinson. “And they can put extra demands (on the younger players). We’ve got a young group of players.
“Bit by bit we’re adding the experienced players that we want to add in — different characteristics, no doubt — but to make us better all across the board.”
Remi Garde, will be acutely aware of the areas where his squad is bare, never more so than after this week’s debilitating development in training. He’s not giving much away in acknowledging the importance of Sunday’s game, but under the circumstances is sure to be pragmatic in setting his side up to get something from the match.
Says Garde, “It’s the start of a long season so the game’s very important, not only because it’s the opening game, but it lets us see where we are against an (MLS) opponent, even if we got a glimpse of it in the pre-eason against Chicago, Philadelphia or New York (City).”
Even allowing for the unpredictability of opening day, expect Impact to steadily play their way into the game, Sunday. Despite limitations, they remain capable, and will be aiming to reach the interval on level terms, after which anything really could happen. But much depends on how well Kamara, in particular, and Techera are marshaled or starved of the ball, by the visiting defensive unit.
Series Facts & Feats
- Vancouver edge the series in MLS between the two sides. Whitecaps have won 3, there’s been a single tie, and two victories for Montreal, the last of which was, coincidentally, on opening day at BC Place in 2016. Impact won 3-2.
- That proved to be a good day for Ignacio Piatti, scoring in the 19th and 88th minutes, and assisting Dominic Oduro’s goal in between on 42.
- Piatti is the only Montreal player to score more than once in an MLS game against Vancouver, with his brace in the above encounter (unsurprisingly, Piatti is also the top Montreal scorer in the series with 3 goals).
- Brazilian, Camilo Sanvezzo, now playing his trade with Queratero in Liga MX, is Vancouver’s top scorer in the series, also with 3 goals. (Sanvezzo is the only other player, apart from Piatti, to score a brace of goals in a fixture between the sides.
- That came back in September 2012. Sanvezzo entered the game only in the 60th minute, replacing Kenny Miller, and performed the LATE LATE SHOW, scoring in the 89th min and again in the 91st to complete a 3-0 road win in Whitecaps first visit to Stade Saputo on MLS business).
- In the six matches to date, Montreal has managed 6 goals, Vancouver 10.
- No-one has played more games in the six-match series for Montreal, than Patrice Bernier (5). No other Montreal player to date has faced Vancouver in MLS-play on more than three occasions. Bernier’s record is one less than Jordan Harvey (Vancouver), who appeared in all six previous games between the sides.
- Troy Perkins in June 2014, is the only Impact goalkeeper to shut Vancouver out in MLS-play. That was during a 0-0 tie at BC Place in June 2014.
- Conversely, Danish stopper, David Ousted, twice, and Joe Cannon have each shut-out Montreal, all in the first three MLS meetings between the clubs. In the fourth MLS meeting of the clubs, Jack McInerney finally became the first Montreal player in June 2015 to breach the Vancouver rearguard. Impact ran out 2-1 winners in the game at Stade Saputo, June 2015.
- Opening Day Blues……recently that’s been the case for Vancouver Whitecaps. In each of their seven MLS seasons to date, they’ve played their opening match at home. For four years in succession everything went well – four home wins! But they’ve not won an Opening Day encounter since March 2014, a 4-1 defeat of NYRB.
- Montreal has never played an Opening Day fixture at home. Over their six seasons to date, they have won on 2 of those road-trips, and lost 4. The two victories have come up in the North-West however, one at Seattle, one at Vancouver!
- No Montreal coach has faced Vancouver in MLS on more than two occasions, however Sunday will be Carl Robinson’s fifth MLS game in charge of Vancouver against Montreal. The former Toronto FC midfielder has won 1 and lost 2 of the previous four.