Mathieu Choiniere chose tonight to emphatically announce his coming as a Montreal Impact player. Ok, so it was only a pre-season friendly, but his confident display upon replacing Piatti the talisman, left anyone watching in no uncertain terms, that he intends to be more than a fringe player in 2019.
It wasn’t only his magnificent 91st minute strike, a fierce volley from 25 yards that Banks, Yachin and Buffon in goal altogether, wouldn’t have stopped, but in the way he gave Leonardo Jara, a player who featured for Boca Juniors in the recent Libertadores Cup Final, twisted blood, before setting up Maxi Urruti for Montreal’s second goal.
The youngster seems determined to give Remi Garde the right kind of selection headache ahead of next week’s opener and the Impact coach won’t mind a bit.
His team looked well-prepared, ready, and at times purred like a well-oiled machine as passes flowed, joining the dots between white shirts. They were sharper, slicker and had more precision than an opponent which inflicted Impact’s record MLS defeat at the end of September. Tonight, DC United looked like a team short on conditioning with the big kick-off looming large.
Garde has clearly been thorough. Effective preparation, patience and attention to detail looks like it’s paying off. His team this evening showed they are a step closer to fitting into his football philosophy, one where they possess the ball, dictate the play and the opponent runs around trying to get it back. Not quite there yet mind, but much closer than at any other time during his year-long tenure.
Nacho Piatti’s second pre-season goal gave Montreal the lead on 8 mins, after he had combined well with Taider and Urruti, before placing a low ground shot from 20 yards beyond the reach of Bill Hamid in the DC goal. It looked like the chance had gone when Urruti was unable to get his shot away when well-placed, but he turned and found his fellow countryman, who finished with precision.
Impact lost Taider on 22 mins, replaced by Shamit Shome but continued to dictate the pace, although every now and then Rooney, whose touches were mainly around halfway, and Acosta would remind of the threat the pair could potentially provide.
The second-half begun more brightly for United, without troubling the impressive Impact rearguard unduly, and although a few player changes appeared to disrupt Impact’s rhythm, there might be concern in the camp that the second goal their play merited didn’t arrive before minute 70, when Rooney’s free-kick into the box appeared to win a penalty decision for DC. VAR came to the rescue however, confirming two DCU attackers offside, as the ball was delivered into the area.
Choiniere the star-turn, was a 73rd minute introduction for Piatti, By then we had already caught a glimpse of Orji Okwonkwo in Montreal colours and he would be joined later up front, by Jackson-Hamel, whose header on, from Bush’s long clearance, channelled the ball into Choiniere’s path for the game’s most spectacular moment.
Remi Garde will be a very satisfied coach this evening, and one whose main job will be to keep feet planted on terra firma in the face of inevitable post-match press hype. Defeat next week in San Jose after all, will drown any good feeling derived from this evening’s events, and he’ll make sure the players get that.
It is a much more confident, organized and prepared unit that heads to California in 2019, than the one that found itself so unsure and depleted in Vancouver in 2018, for the season’s opener.
Impact fans have good reason for optimism, but no-one should be getting carried away. At least, not just yet!
Montreal Impact lineup:
Evan Bush; Bacary Sagna, Victor Cabrera, Zakaria Diallo, Daniel Lovitz; Samuel Piette, Michael Azira, Saphir Taïder (Shamit Shome 22’), Clement Bayiha (Orji Okonkwo 64’); Ignacio Piatti (Mathieu Choiniere 73’), Maximiliano Urruti (Anthony Jackson-Hamel 82’)
D.C. United lineup:
Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora (Chris McCann 80’), Frédéric Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Leonardo Jara; Russell Canouse, Júnior Moreno; Lucas Rodríguez (Ulises Segura 33’), Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola (Zoltán Stieber 81’); Wayne Rooney
Mathieu Choiniere was the only player whose name went into the referee’s notebook. So a hat-trick of sorts on a memorable evening for the homegrown 20-year-old: an assist, a yellow card and a goal of immense quality!