Perhaps Remi Garde’s greatest challenge heading into the Impact’s first-ever game in Cincinnati is to rail against complacency, and ensure his troops’ feet are kept planted firmly on the ground.
Only New England Revolution and Colorado Rapids, who along with FC Cincinnati have already let coaches go in 2019, have a worse record than the MLS-expansion side this season.
The Impact on the other hand are enjoying one of their best-ever starts to an MLS season, despite playing 9 of their first dozen matches on the road.
So tomorrow will be easy then?
Well, actually no, on the contrary, the Impact coach needs to make sure his charges, notoriously inconsistent despite all the positives and with a casualty room resembling ‘Emergency Ward Ten’, go out at Nippert Stadium in absolutely the right frame of mind.
They will face a side that’s been under-performing for former head coach Alan Koch, who received his cards earlier this week. Koch has been temporarily replaced by former Impact youth coach, Yoann Damet, and tomorrow will be the twenty-nine year-old’s first game in charge. The danger-signs could not be any redder or much brighter. Cite Manchester United’s immediate yet unsustainable improvement when Solskjaer replaced Mourinho.
It’s certain that this point will be high on Remi Garde’s agenda as he sends his team over that white line, Saturday. Clearly Montreal will expect to face a reaction. A storm will likely have to be weathered before they can settle to play their own game.
Koch had been USL Coach of the Year in 2018, and had led Cincinnati to two victories and a draw in its first four games in MLS. Then the wheels fell off. In the seven games since, they lost six, scoring only one goal, a penalty by Darren Mattocks, which earned a point at home to Sporting KC.
The last goal Cincinnati scored from open-play was Kekutah Manneh’s at New England on March 24.
There are some names very familiar to Impact fans that have played extensively for Cincinnati this season: central defenders, Nick Hagglund and Kendall Waston, midfielder Roland Lamah, and strikers Mattocks and Manneh, so despite being in expansion mode, they do carry significant MLS-experience.
Former Portland striker Fanendo Adi, who’s had a running feud with the former coach, may be restored to the line-up, now that Damet’s in charge. Former Impact man, Eric Alexander figured recently against Philly and may play tomorrow, but he’s been used only sparingly this season.
For the Impact, Piatti, Novillo, Choiniere, Bayiha, Cabrera, Okwonkwo, Sagna and Taïder have all been on the injured list, although the last two made the bench in New Jersey, Wednesday. Okwonkwo did travel too, but the other five were left behind in Montreal.
”All those who were valid and could walk, we brought them,” said Rémi Garde, to laughter.
”We’re going to count those who remain valid and we may adapt the tactics, but I also like the 4-3-3,” added the head coach about his game plan. We got the hand a little forced [on Wednesday, because of injury], but it’s also a system that allows players to focus on something else.”
The 5-3-2 cum 3-4-3 formation with Camacho restored in the centre of defence, and two strikers up top, worked well against the Red Bulls, but Garde’s comments leaves everyone guessing how he will line out against the Orange & Blue. And that’s ok.
The only thing certain about tomorrow is their host’s promise to implement changes aplenty in a bid to restore confidence, commitment and climb away from the unhealthy end of the table.
Damet, now the youngest coach in MLS-history, backed this up by saying, “We’re probably going to see something different.”
Montreal must be prepared for whatever comes their way. Make no mistake, this potentially is a huge banana skin.
FCC - Tyton - Hoyte, Hagglund, Waston, Deplagne - Saief, Stanko, Ulloa, Lamah - Adi, Mattocks
IMFC - Bush - Sagna, Raitala, Camacho, Diallo, Lovitz - Browne, Piette, Shome - Urruti, Jackson-Hamel
Officials - Information unavailable at time of press.