“It’s a massive challenge, we know that. Probably the biggest challenge we’ve faced to this point in the season.” Evan Bush is under no illusion when it comes to taking on MLS’ form team in its own backyard.
LAFC are advancing like they expect to break records this season, and their star striker Carlos Vela is the hottest thing in MLS right now with 14 goals in 14 games. There’s also Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye, a vital cog in the LA set-up, and Uruguayan striker Diego Rossi, who’s impressed from day 1, since coming into the league in 2018.
The Black and Gold are top scorers in MLS this season with 32 (14 matches) and they’ve collected 5 more points than the next best team, while holding a 9-1-4 record.
It’s not ideal then that Montreal are deprived of midfield anchor, Samuel Piette, whose yellow card in last weekend’s game sees him suspended for the clash.
Remi Garde will have to decide how best his team can cope without their usual number six against LA’s free-flowing attack. Garde’s Montreal has never started a game without Piette, so it’s not like anyone is used slotting into the role the local man normally holds down.
The coach may opt for a defensive midfield pairing in front of a back four, or five. It may mean a recall for Ken Krolicki. Both Azira and Shome like to play further forward, but either one, probably Azira, may slot into the deeper role.
This would leave Shome to join a more advanced midfield three along with Taider and possibly Piatti, who has talked up his fitness.
“I trained all week to play, and after that it’s on the coach to decide,” Piatti said. “I feel good. I want to help the team and I hope to play.”
He’s certainly the one player that LA fear. Piatti scored his only MLS hat-trick against them in the 3-5 defeat at Stade Saputo last season, the only previous meeting of the clubs.
Urutti looks set to get the start up front. Despite a lack of goals, his industry and work rate will be deemed critical on Friday evening.
If the Impact are looking for omens or encouragement, one could be that LA’s solitary defeat this season came at he hands of another Canadian outfit, Vancouver Whitecaps.
Another factor leaning Montreal’s way could be LAFC’s recent busy schedule. Tomorrow night’s game will be their fourth in 14 days, and last weekend at Dallas their performance forced coach Bob Bradley to label the ninety minutes, “... a frustrating game.”
”No real fluidity, no real sharpness, choppy at the beginning, all sorts of fouls. ... Having said all that, I would give our guys credit for pushing and hanging in there,” Bradley said.
Omens aside, it remains a tall order, and even if the Impact is able to keep Vela under wraps, there’s the Uruguayan Diego Rossi (7 goals, 2 assists this season) to worry about.
Although Montreal has tended to conjure up the unexpected this season, winning when expected to lose, and losing when expected to win, for them to come back from their first-ever visit to Banc of California Stadium with anything more than a point would be a huge surprise.
LAFC - Miller - Beitashour, Segura, Zimmerman, Mohammed El-Munir - Horta, Kaye, Nguyen - Blessing, Vela, Rossi.
IMFC - Bush, Sagna, Raitala, Diallo, Lovitz - Azira, Krolicki - Shome, Taider, Piatti - Urruti
Officials - (unavailable at time of press)