IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida. As much as I comprehend their usefulness, I hate pre-season friendlies. Dull, boring and chaotic without any narrative of continuity. Pre-season friendlies don’t provide the material of novels, more the staggered collection of unconnected short stories.
So I’m glad the first of five is now out of the way and we edge slowly towards the big kick-off, which still feels too far away.
But a pre-season game can provide clues to the thoughts of the head coach, even when in the case of this one, it’s not televised.
The centre-back pairing is probably the most interesting debate currently, so you wonder how significant it is that Remi Garde chose to begin last night’s game with Diallo and Camacho. The coach was clearly more influential in bringing those players to Montreal, than the second-half CB pairing, Jukka Raitala and Victor Cabrera, who was already on the playing staff.
Everyone had high hopes for Diallo last season after impressing in the warm-ups, before injury intervened, so it’s probably no surprise the former Ligue Two player appears to find himself in pole position provided he remains injury-free.
The question then becomes; who should partner Diallo? Camacho did last night, but a series of largely unconvincing displays last season leaves the door open for others. Camacho took time to settle last season and there was always conjecture around his fitness. If he finds what many hope to be his true form and fitness in 2019, he won’t be the first player to show significant improvement from one season to the next, but the jury remains out.
Jukka Raitala after a shaky start to 2018, proved his defensive adaptability, performing with great consistency throughout the latter half of the season. Garde seems to consider the Finnish international more of a central defender than a full-back these days, and his claims to a starting spot alongside Diallo are legitimate.
That he was introduced only after half-time last evening, partnering Victor Cabrera, may or may not be telling, after all Piette and Taider, two “nailed on” starters, only appeared after the interval too.
It will be interesting to see which way Remi Garde approaches the CB partnership over the next few games. Although last night’s initial pairing may suggest how the French coach is thinking, I’m not sure his mind is made up yet.
Impact faced a former player in Blake Smith last night, while another, Eric Alexander was left out of the Cincinnati line-up. A familiar foe lined up against Piatti & Co as well, in Eric Hagglund, recently acquired by his hometown club from Toronto FC, and Bacary Sagna was able to re-connect with a former team-mate on the other side in Justin Hoyte, the pair being players at Arsenal at the same time.
Played in comparatively (to Montreal) tropical temperatures of 15 Celsius, almost inevitably, it was Nacho Piatti who put the Impact in front, after they had dominated the opening 10 mins of the game. The maestro won the ball in midfield, slipped past another challenge and finished fiercely from distance, leaving Cincinnati’s experienced Polish ‘keeper, Tyton, little chance.
The equaliser for the Orange and Blues, came four mins after the break. Darren Mattocks, another familiar foe, found his way onto a long ball between the Impact centre-backs before lobbing Diop in goal.
There were run-outs for everyone in the Impact party, apart from Sirois, Fontaine and Sejdic, while reports suggest Brault-Guillard was not stripped for action, presumably due to injury (unconfirmed).
Diallo (29) and Piatti (36) each received yellow cards, as did Forrest Lasso, creator of the Cincinnati goal, in minute 68.
Montreal Impact’s next match is on Wednesday 6 February v Nashville SC, when it’s hoped live TV pictures can be made available to viewers in Quebec.
Montreal Impact (first-half) – Bush – Sagna, Camacho, Diallo, Legault – Azira, Krolicki, Choiniere (M), Piatti – Novillo, Urruti.
(second-half) - Diop – Bayiha, Cabrera, Raitala, Kinumbe – Piette, Shome, Taider, Choiniere (D) – Wehan, Jackson-Hamel
Cincinnati (first-half) – Tyton – Smith, Hagglund, Waston, Deplagne – Stanko, Cruz, Bertone, Welshman – Adi, Lamah.
(second-half) – Tyton – Hoyte, Lasso, Ndam, Powell – Alashe, Ulloa, Albadawi, Bone – Mattocks, Ledesma