Impact celebrates its 25th year, and the man who talks about himself, always in the third person, gets an invite! The party hosts will be hoping there’s no post-game interview where a certain Swede declares, “Zlatan always scores!”
Chances are though …. he will.
We’re looking at a meeting of two of the weakest sides, defensively, in MLS, and if respective coaches, Remi Garde and Sigi Schmid decide attack is the best form of defence for Matinee Monday, there will inevitably be an avalanche of goals.
The Swede, three to his credit so far in 2018, is partnered upfront by in-form Ola Kamara, who’s notched three in Galaxy’s last trio of matches, all 2-3 reverses in a run of 4 straight defeats.
Consider too, the main (only?) home threat of Nacho Piatti. The Argentinian rarely goes three successive games without scoring, and he’s sitting on consecutive blanks right now since registering against New England two weeks ago. Piatti in the past two years (since May 2016), has scored 38 times in 65 appearances, and on only 4 occasions throughout that time has gone more than two matches without a goal – a quite remarkable record of consistency!
Montreal (3-8-0) has conceded an average of exactly 3 goals per game over the last 7, Galaxy (3-6-1) 11 in their last 4.
Sigi Schimd, who at 65 years and 62 days will become the oldest opposing coach ever to face the Impact, has spoken about his side’s defensive frailty.
“It’s personnel, it’s formation. We’ve talked a lot as a staff. Do we play five in the back, to try and solidify it that way? That eliminates some players in some positions. Do we stay with four?
“We’re more defensively aware right now. We’ve just tried to work on our defensive awareness our challenges and our toughness in duels at times. So, we’ll continue with that. Obviously, personnel, at the end of the day, is something you’ve always got to look at.”
The Galaxy coach, who will be without left-back and captain Ashley Cole, concludes, “Patience is important.”
That last comment is one his Montreal counterpart would not disagree with. Remi Garde is unable to select defender Daniel Lovitz (suspended) on holiday Monday, Michael Petrasso, and Rudy Camacho remain doubtful, and three more centre-backs, Kyle Fisher, Victor Cabrera and Zakaria Diallo are each still a spell off fitness.
”Every week we have to change the backline and it’s not an easy situation for me and it’s not an easy situation for the team,” Garde said.
”Normally, you want to have stability and for some reason we are struggling to keep the same players every weekend. We have to cope, we have to adapt.”
Garde may be forgiven for thinking his side had turned the corner somewhat following the recent win over New England, however that was not achieved without a huge contribution from, and dependence upon, Piatti. With their top player shackled over the next 180 mins against Chicago and Philly, there was no-one to step up and add creativity or craft to a powder-puff front line.
Result – two defeats, zero goals.
Garde described the latter of those defeats (to Philadelphia), “our worst performance of the season.”
He wasn’t wrong!
Said Garde, ”I didn’t expect that because the week before we controlled the game, we controlled the ball, we controlled everything against a very good team. I was surprised that a week later, with the same players, with the same construction, we couldn’t win. I’m not pessimistic, I’m not worried. I just want the players to be confident.”
Both sides are at “Now or Never Time” in regard to any realistic aspirations for post-season football in 2018, and despite a recent dip in attendance at Stade Saputo, the east-end venue will be full for this one. Ibrahimovic, the celebrated Swede of Ajax, Inter, Juventus, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG and Manchester United fame, ensures premium interest.
He’s been here once before, having played 90 mins for PSG against Lyon (2-0) in the French Trophee des Champions (2015), incidentally without scoring.
Impact will be hoping for more of the same, although that will not be what Zlatan’s admirers swelling the crowd, are expecting to see.
Prediction? Impact is (1-2-3) in matches against the Galaxy, with the sole victory (3-2) coming at home through Didier Drogba’s added-time free-kick goal. The previous two Montreal meetings have ended all square, 1-1 and 2-2. I expect a more determined effort from Montreal, Monday, which may just carry them towards a share of the spoils.
Much depends on the star attractions or on the unlikely event that either side finds enough cohesion to bolt the door. If Impact’s defence remains scarily shaky, especially with Ibra in the opposition mix, then Galaxy’s looks equally suspect in the face of Piatti.
There can only be goals. I’ll plump for 2-2 or 3-3.
Impact Projected Starting XI
(4-3-3, right to left)
GK: Evan Bush — Chris Duvall, Rod Fanni, Jukka Raitala, Raheem Edwards — Alejandro Silva, Samuel Piette, Saphir Taider – Matteo Mancosu, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Ignacio Piatti
LA Galaxy Projected Starting XI(4-2-3-1, right to left)
GK: David Bingham — Daniel Steres, Michael Ciani, Jorgen Skjelvik, Dave Romney — Jonathan dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget — Chris Pontius, Romain Alessandrini, Ola Kamara — Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Man In The Middle –
Ismail Elfath (36) renews ties with Montreal Impact, which go back to his first-ever game as a professional referee, almost exactly nine years ago on 17 May 2009 at Claude Roubillard; Montreal Impact v Austin Aztex (4-0). The game was Marc Dos Santos first in charge of the Impact after replacing John Limniatis.
Mr Elfath resides in Austin, Texas and refereed the 2015 MLS All-Star game in Colorado against Tottenham Hotspur. He joined the FIFA list in 2016, and refereed at the CONCACAF u20 Championships in Costa Rica in 2017.
Tomorrow will be his fourth visit to Stade Saputo, and his first since July 2016. The Impact has won each of the previous three.
Mr Elfath has refereed the Impact 8 times in total, Montreal winning five and tying one. Their respective paths have crossed once before this season at Seattle in March, when Impact won 1-0, and Seattle’s Kelvin Leerdam was dismissed following an incident with Daniel Lovitz.