Pre-Season finally got underway down in Florida as the Impact took on expansion outfit Cincinnati FC, the Ohioans first match of any kind since becoming an MLS club.
There were debuts for several players including Maxi Urruti, who played in the first-half team (Impact changed all 11 players at half-time in typical pre-season fashion). Almost inevitably it was Nacho Piatti who put the Montrealers in front, only for old foe, Darren Mattocks to chase down a long through ball to lob Clement Diop for Cincy’s leveller.
No more goals were scored, but encouraging noises emerged around 18-year-old, right side defender, Emile Legault. From Longueuil, the youngster left for France aged 12 with his mother to join the Auxerre club whose youth set-up, the brainchild of Guy Roux, was long-time recognized by many as the best in France.
Of his latest experience Legault declared, “It was sure that at the beginning there was a bit of stress to start with a new team, but the other players put me in confidence, I got into the match and it went well.”
Nashville SC Up Next …
Nashville SC provide Impact’s next pre-season opponent, this Wednesday, in Sarasota. They will not face Andrew Gutman, a recent signing by Celtic whom the Glasgow club promptly loaned to Nashville.
In a strange turn of events over the weekend, MLS put a block on the deal. Although Nashville is currently a USL club, they will be an MLS-expansion team in 2020. Gutman came through Chicago Fire’s academy, and the Illinois club still holds the MLS rights to the player, hence the intervention.
Impact will be keen to avoid a similar type experience as befell rival Toronto FC as they took on USL opposition, Saturday. Two former Impact players were in opposition, Bryan Arguez and Laurent Ciman, and it was the lesser known wearing all the smiles at the finish. Arguez managed to score against the 2017 MLS Cup winners for whom Ciman was in central defence during the concession of all five goals!
Another International Win For Lovitz …
Daniel Lovitz retained his place in Gregg Berhalter’s second game in charge of the US MNT, Saturday. In a vote of confidence following the 3-0 defeat of Panama, Lovitz again wore the #5 shirt, playing on the left side of a back four including, Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman and Nick Lima. And again, the US kept a clean-sheet, winning 2-0.
Antonee Robinson, a 21-year-old Everton player on loan at Wigan Athletic, may be Lovitz’s biggest rival in trying to hold down an international place, although Ben Sweat (NYCFC), Jorge Villafana (Portland Timbers) and Aaron Long (RBNY) have all recently been tried in the role.
The latest game, Saturday was hosted by Avaya Stadium, San Jose, coincidentally the scene of Lovitz’s and of course Montreal Impact’s next competitive game on 2 March.
A Better Weekend for Joey ….
What a difference a week makes. No doubt Impact owner Joey Saputo will be resting easier this week than he was last. After humiliation at home to the hands of lowly Frosinone 8 days ago, his Bologna team produced an amazing response going to the San Siro no less and defeating mighty Internazionale 1-0. Paraguayan striker, Santander, headed the only goal in the 32ndmin, after which it was pretty much a backs-to-the-wall performance by the Rossoblu.
But hold on they did, and now I Veltri lie just one point from safety behind Empoli, and two adrift of Udinese.
Blerim Dzemaili was back on the bench, but not called upon. Left out of the squad completely was Nigerian youngster Orji Okwonkwo, amidst speculation he could be headed to Quebec to bolster Remi Garde’s attacking options. The Impact remain horribly light in this department despite the recruitment of Maxi Urruti, and it will be surprising should at least one more attacker not arrive at Stade Saputo prior to MLS curtain-up.
What’s going on in San Jose …
Montreal’s first MLS opponents on March 2nd, San Jose Earthquakes saw their pre-season get underway in a 1-1 draw with LigaMX basement side, Pioneros de Cancun, Friday. The MLS side, with five debutants including 15-year-old academy product, Cade Cowell, took the lead in the 20thmin through Valeri Qazaishvili, or Vako, for short.
The Georgian international received his green card last month and no longer counts as a foreigner on the San Jose roster, just the latest example of what amounts to a major irritant for Canadian clubs in MLS.
After a Conference-high goals-against column of 71 last season, it’s surprising new coach Matias Almeyda has not concentrated more in shoring up the backline. The former Chivas boss still has US international, Nick Lima patrolling the right flank and the only defensive reinforcement has been the arrival of 19-year-old Peruvian LB, Marcos Lopez.
Two other notable signings are those of 25-year-old defensive midfielder from Brazil, Judson, and exciting winger Cristian Espinoza, a 23-year-old Argentinian on loan from Spain’s Villareal, who played some minutes in River Plate’s ultimately successful Copa Libertadores Cup campaign in 2018.
Second MLS opponent on the road will be at the Dynamo, where Montreal has a deplorable record. Houston, with Chris Duvall in their ranks also got pre-season underway last week with a closed-doors practise game against affiliate club Rio Grande Valley FC. Houston came from behind to win the game 2-1 with goals from Tommy McNamara, and new arrival from Colorado Rapids, Marlon Hairston.
Much speculation had ben surrounding the future of Honduran attacker Alberth Elis, but it looks likely that the 22-year-old will remain in Texas to face Montreal on March 9, despite interest from Europe in the form of Celtic, Fenerbahce and West Bromwich Albion.
Old Boys on the mark …..
Alejandro Silva hasn’t wasted much time making an impact in his second spell with Olimpia Ascuncion, while two former strikers continue to find the net in Italy’s Serie C.
Silva, who wore #9 at Stade Saputo last season, set up Roque Santa Cruz for visiting Olimpia’s second goal in yesterday’s 5-1 demolition of Sportivo Luqueno. That was in the 18thminute. He scored Olimpia’s third goal himself, four mins later, and claimed another assist on William Mendieta’s goal, all before being replaced on 67 mins.
Olimpia, winners of the Apertura and Clausura competitions in 2018, are the only side in Paraguay’s top division to have a 100% record after two rounds (most clubs have played three).
Silva has Libertadores Cup football also look forward to, with a home and away series in the international competition coming up against Godoy Cruz (Argentina), Sporting Cristal (Peru) and Universidad Concepcion (Chile).
Meanwhile, Matteo Mancosu continues his rejuvenation at Serie C, Girone A promotion favourites Virtus Entella. He notched his third goal in 4 matches since re-uniting with former coach, Roberto Boscaglia, at the little Ligurian club. Picking the ball up on the right in the 55thminute, Mancosu moved in-field, drifting past two challenges before planting a neat finish beyond the ‘keeper’s outstretched left hand.
It did not look like the player who’d spent last season with Montreal Impact.
Finally, Daniele Paponi and Juve Stabia just keep going on and on … Along with illustrious namesake, Juventus Turin, they are the only two unbeaten teams in the top three levels of Italian football.
Paponi’s team now looks certain to win promotion to Serie B. Nine points clear and undefeated in 23 rounds of football, they were however taken to the wire by mid-table Rende yesterday, but a penalty converted by Paponi himself, in the 6thminute of added time secured all three points.
Paponi, now 30, is top scorer for the little club on the Bay of Naples, with 10 league goals this season from 20 matches (17 starts).