What a difference a year makes ......
Twelve months ago, the Impact could barely find enough fit players to field a half decent team. There was almost a five-a-side team of centre-backs on the injured list, and new coach Remi Garde wasn’t so much making selection decisions, but drafting in whomever was able-bodied.
Not only does he have longer to think about his line-up and tactics for the next road trip to Kansas City due to the international weekend, he also has selection problems. Good ones.
I’m not suggesting the current squad doesn’t need further strengthening, but the coach’s options are infinitely better than they were last March.
Two arrivals in particular on the right side of attack have provided reason for optimism. Harry Novillo, a former charge of Garde’s at Olympique Lyonnais, is thought to be the preferred choice, however the Martinique international’s hamstring issue allowed young Nigerian Orji Okwonkwo to start the first three games of the season.
While Okwonkwo didn’t exactly set the world alight in the first brace of fixtures, his performance, and goal, last Saturday in Orlando, keeps him firmly in the reckoning for a starting place in Kansas. Novillo did enter the game for the last 15 mins in Florida, suggesting his injury problem is resolved, and laid on the insurance goal for Ignacio Piatti.
Young Mathieu Choiniere appears to be #3 on the list for a wide-right berth, but remains a player, as yet largely untried, that could also make an impression.
Garde isn’t aways easy to read, however I think he’s likely to go with the powerful running of Okwonkwo from the off in Kansas, rather than the more skilful and subtle attributes of Novillo, who will also I’m sure get game time.
Another option remains. He could withdraw Urruti deeper into a midfield role supporting the strikers, and play both Okwonkwo and Novillo, the former in the central striking position. Azira, whose performance in Orlando, leant more towards retention, than omission, would be the likely casualty should this come into the coach’s thoughts. It would also tilt the balance more towards offence, and I’m not sure an away fixture at SKC is the time or place for this.
Another dilemma of mixed proportions for the coach is the centre-back position. Much has been written about Zakaria Diallo’s suspension and the merits or folly of his actions, but no matter how the incident is viewed, Montreal is left going into one of their most difficult regular-season fixtures missing their main central defender.
It’s not all doom and gloom however. Unlike last year, Jukka Raitala now has several outings behind him in that position and Rudy Camacho’s fitness and conditioning is probably at a higher level than at any other time since coming to Canada. Suggestions that we haven’t seen the best yet of Camacho may be true - there’s a school of thought he struggled for full fitness for much of last season - however I think, should Garde stick with Cabrera (who wasn’t all that convincing in Orlando), his partner will be the Finn. Raitala proved to be a very effective Mr Versatility in defence last season, but it all really depends on which partnership the coach considers best to nullify the threat of Hungarian Krisztian Nemeth, who's been on target 5 times this season for SKC (4 in CCL play).
So which way is Remi Garde thinking? Love to hear your thoughts ..... Take our poll (below) ...
What will be the centre-back pairing, and who will start wide-right in the attack v SKC?
This poll is closed
Cabrera/Camacho & Novillo
Cabrera/Raitala & Novillo
Raitala/Camacho & Novillo
Cabrera/Camacho & Okwonkwo
Cabrera/Raitala & Okwonkwo
Raitala/Camacho & Okwonkwo