Early Road Trips - Masterstroke or Folly?
Montreal Impact’s decision not to utilize the Big O for early season MLS home fixtures for the first time, in 2019, may yet prove a masterstroke, but it could also see the Montrealers left behind at the starting post, playing catch-up for the rest of the season. You’re forgiven if this sounds familiar.
Historically, form over the first six road games (the number they will play on the bounce from the beginning of March) has never been stellar, apart from 2013, when Marco Shallibaum’s freshness inspired the team to a 3-2-1 record and 10
Consider too, it’s 5 years since they lost an MLS match at Stade Olympique, where the last 4 have yielded a 3-0-1 record, and you wonder how wise a move this is.
But could such a lengthy run of away fixtures actually help cure chronic travel sickness, a condition that seems endemic in Impact teams down through the years?
Well, possibly. Remi Garde will undoubtedly look to work the situation to his advantage. He doesn’t need to be astute to realize his side’s poor road form is a barrier to success. A plan will already be formulated to turn this around, with the run of opening games a perfect launchpad. A golden opportunity exists to instill a more robust mentality away from Stade Saputo.
Think of other sports. Rugby Union and cricket for instance, where international teams embark on long tours to countries in an opposite hemisphere. It’s not quite the same, but not a million miles of difference either. The camaraderie and character built up by touring teams almost always ensures more games are won than lost by the visiting troupe.
Impact’s French coach will also be feeling more comfortable with his North American surroundings, and with players that represent his own decision either to retain or acquire. It’s now more HIS team, than the collection of players first inherited, a more battle-hardened, smarter and better-coached unit than a year ago, despite the recent loss of Alejandro Silva.
Max Urruti’s arrival should add some punch up front. Never prolific, but if he dovetails with fellow countryman, Piatti, Impact will reap reward. Silva’s replacement, Harry Novillo, is a mystery man, but he’s at least known to Garde from their days at Olympique Lyonnais.
On the decision not to use Stade Olympique, Executive Vice-President, Richard Legendre said in a statement. "This decision should please our members and supporters who have long wanted all games of the season to be played at home. Saputo Stadium is our home, our fortress."
Most fans will welcome the move, but only if their team can maintain respectability on the road, before returning home on 13 April against Columbus Crew.
The two opening fixtures in the West, at San Jose and at Houston, two cities where IMFC have failed to register victory in a combined total of 9 attempts, may be kinder than normal given both opponents’ struggles last year. Orlando City, third-up, shouldn’t hold too many fears, but points gained from the next three; Sporting Kansas, New York City FC and resurgent, Rooney-inspired, DC United will be highly coveted and prized possessions ……
Nevertheless, a return of 8 points or more, and Impact will certainly feel they’re in a great position to kick on, with home matches then coming thick and fast, something which created a powerful momentum for rivals DC United in 2018.
However, a return of 6 or less, despite the plethora of home games to come will remind of poor beginnings to seasons past, in which a play-off place has proven a step, or several steps, too far.
With this current Impact squad it could go either way, but if the current French coach can emulate the early travel delights of the Swiss, Schallibaum in 2013, then Montreal fans could be in for a great year.