Normally when you talk of a coach being unpredictable, the sentiment is shrouded in bewilderment, frustration or disbelief.
But there’s a feel-good factor attaching itself to Montreal Impact these days, and if the new coach is capable of something different, no-one’s complaining.
Remi Garde’s approach to the TFC game three weeks ago, may have surprised most observers, yet effectively it enabled a first victory, after seven straight defeats. And in bravely sticking with youngster Ken Krolicki in his starting line-up, while keeping new signings Silva and Camacho on the bench for the follow-up trip to Seattle, he surprised a few of us again. But, as at The Big O, he got the result, although maybe not the performance.
This Friday, the former Olympique Lyonnais coach and his improving outfit head south to take on Eastern Conference rival, New England Revolution. Garde’s unpredictability comes wrapped in a mountain of experience from working with top clubs in Europe.
He’s a thinking man’s coach, understands better than most football’s complexities and sees things that others miss. He’s still new, still learning about MLS, and still finding out about his squad, or at those three latest additions.
That’s why, in these intriguing early days of the latest coaching regime, it remains a little difficult to predict which players and formation will take to the field on any given weekend. There’s never wholesale changes, Garde is too shrewd for that. It’s more like a tweak here, a tweak there, but he’s prepared to change his game-plan to outsmart any particular opponent.
I had a chat with some Revs colleagues on Monday evening on their podcast featuring a preview of Friday’s game (you can check it out on sixstatesonepod.com). Their optimism for the new season, and appreciation for their newly installed coach Brad Friedel mirror what’s currently happening in Montreal.
IMPROVING SIDES –
Friday’s clash brings together two improving sides, each of whom will realize the importance of victory over the other, given they are likely to be keen rivals for play-off spots.
New England stands a point ahead of Montreal, with same number of games and one more home match played. Each has recorded impressive, but rare, road wins as recently as last weekend, so both camps will be approaching their meeting with optimism.
HAPPY HUNTING GROUND –
Gillette Stadium is the road venue where Montreal has been most successful, winning 3 times and drawing once in 7 visits. In fact, one thing about games between these two, home advantage never really has been exactly that. In the 16 MLS regular season matches played in both cities, there’s been 7 home wins, 7 away wins and a couple of tied games.
STARTING PLACES -
It’s likely Montreal starting places will go to Rudy Camacho and Alejandro Silva, Friday night. Casualties may be Finnish international, Jukka Raitala and young Ken Krolicki. Matteo Mancosu is not expected to return to the squad from injury, although news is better on Michael Petrasso. The Canadian, injured on international duty, could reclaim his role on the right side of defense from Chris Duvall.
Remi Garde may opt for 5-3-2, in which case Cabrera, Fanni and Camacho will form the central defensive trio. Should there be deployment of a more conventional 4-4-2, Cabrera may be the unlucky man, having performed well in his last three outings.
New England played a high pressing game in their last home game, a 2-2 tie with New York City FC, in which they led twice. Expect more of the same on Friday night, in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Teal Bunbury up top.
Scott Caldwell and Wilfried Zahibo will anchor the midfield but Samuel Piette and friends must deal with the developing partnership between Diego Fagundez, a player well-known to Montrealers, and new man from Ecuador, Cristian Penilla, a speedy attacker who breaks from midfield.
CRISTIAN PENILLA –
Penilla is on loan from Liga MX outfit, Pachuca and has previous first-hand experience of the Impact. He was an unused sub in the Champions League quarter-final first leg game in Pachuca in 2015. In this, his first season in MLS he has one goal and three assists from 4 apps.
Says Fagundez, “I think coach (Friedel) has definitely brought this team together. The way he wants us to play, the energy, everything about the locker room has definitely changed.”
“I think it’s better for us. I think it’s definitely showing in the games. We just have to keep doing it, keep having fun. At the end of the day, when we’re winning games, everybody is happy. So, we just have to keep this vibe going and keep it rolling.”
Brad Friedel remembers Remi Garde from a time when each man earned a living in England, and highlights where he expects the main threat to come from.
“I know Remi a little bit from his time in Europe,” said Friedel, who expects Montreal to play with five across the back. “He’ll have the team structured in a very resilient manner and they’ll be difficult to break down.”
“It’ll be a hard game, there’s no doubt about it. They have a very good player in Piatti, so we’ll have to be at the top of our game to beat them.”
Montreal will be seeking to prevent a fifth straight defeat to the Revs, but with seven “L’s” on the bounce prior to the recent victory over Toronto FC, this Impact side is in the mood to hi-jack all negative trends.
New England projected starting line-up - (4-2-3-1, right to left)
GK: Matt Turner — Andrew Farrell, Jalil Anibaba, Claude Dielna, Gabriel Somi — Scott Caldwell, Wilfried Zahibo — Cristian Penilla, Luis Caicedo, Diego Fagundez — Teal Bunbury
Montreal projected starting line-up - (5-3-2, right to left)
GK: Evan Bush — Mike Petrasso, Victor Cabrera, Rod Fanni, Rudy Camacho, Daniel Lovitz — Alejandro Silva, Samuel Piette, Saphir Taider — Jeisson Vargas, Ignacio Piatti
Prediction – Both sides have new players trying to bed-in, early season, and while Montreal should maintain their record of scoring in every game so far, the best I can see them coming away with is a share of the points (unusual for this fixture - only two tied games in sixteen meetings so far).