This evening Montreal Impact plays it’s now traditional pre-season game against USL club Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium, St-Petersburg.
The Rowdies have come off a poor season in 2018, where they parted company with one Scottish coach, Stuart Campbell, replacing him with another in former Sunderland, Wolves, Leeds and Sheffield United centre-back, Neill Collins. Joe Cole of Chelsea, Liverpool and England fame faced the Impact on the field in last year’s edition. This time around he’ll face the Montrealers again, but as Collins’ assistant-coach.
Rowdies’ final position in USL Eastern Division was a disappointing 12th, but these pre-season games have always been close-fought affairs: prior to 2-1 victories for either side, Tampa in 2017, Impact in 2018, there was a 0-0 stalemate (2016).
Expect tonight to be no different. I understand the Rowdies to be a strong, physical side, a blend of youth and experience, with young Irishman Jordan Doherty on-loan from Sheffield United, and 20-year-old Caleb Richard, on a similar arrangement from English Championship leaders, Norwich City.
Complementing the youth there are players with MLS experience. Goalkeeper John McCarthy (21 apps), Brazilian midfielder, Leo Fernandes (32 apps) and Antoine Hoppenot (69 apps), all saw service with Philadelphia Union. Hoppenot in particular has previous against the Impact, being central to the incident that saw straight red cards issued to both Nelson Rivas and Jack McInerney (then of Philadelphia Union) at StadeSaputo in 2012, and in scoring Union’s second in a 3-5 defeat the following year, also at the Montreal venue.
Saphir Taider opened his Montreal Impact account with a goal in this fixture last year, an occasion also notable for an Evan Bush penalty save from George Hristov, and a late winning goal from Nacho Piatti. Expect all three to start tonight in a strong Impact line-up that will see changes in the second-half, but perhaps not the plethora of half-time swaps we witnessed in the first two pre-season games.
Coach Remi Garde is expecting a physical encounter with a lot of rhythm.
“We know they’re a good team, especially when they play in front of their supporters. We want to test them physically because we remember our game against them last year. On our end, certain players will play 45 mins, others 60, and perhaps one or two will remain on the field for the entire game, or almost.”
Last year’s was one of the few games Zakaria Diallo played for the Impact. The Frenchman looks certain to be a starter again this evening.
“The team spirit is strong. We know we’re in the final phase of preparation and we’re finalizing our style of play. These last pre-season games are important. It’s on us to approach them as if it is the first MLS game of the season.”
The game tonight is broadcast live on impactmontreal.com.
After tonight’s game, the Impact will conclude its Florida training camp with a Saturday evening fixture against DC United, also part of the Rowdies’ Suncoast Invitational tournament, and also available live from the same source, impactmontreal.com.
The party then head on to California where it opens the regular season with a match against the San Jose Earthquakes (2 March, 10pm EST) at Avaya Stadium (TVA Sports).