Another tension-filled, war of attrition can be expected at Stade Saputo on Saturday evening (5pm) with the visit of New York City FC, a team that’s never been beaten in Montreal, and indeed the last visitor to score here, through Rudy Camacho’s own goal in September.
The Pigeons sit just above the play-off line, 5 points behind the Impact with a game less played. A traditionally difficult opponent for Montreal, NYC despite being this season’s draw specialists, have garnered 7 points from their last three games, the most impressive of those being a 2-0 success in Washington.
Turning draws into wins has come after tinkering coach, Dome Torrent opted to move to a back three, with 18 year-old prodigy, James Sands as the fulcrum. Sands however pulled an abductor muscle near the end of the most recent 1-1 draw with Orlando, and will not take part at Stade Saputo. Sebastien Ibeagha is his most obvious replacement, although seeing Alex Ring drop to the deeper position would not be a surprise either.
The man in form is Brazilian, Heber with 2 goals and as many assists in his last three games. Maxi Morales, who didn’t face Montreal when the teams faced off last month (0-0), is now restored to the line-up, and it remains to be seen if Torrent decides to also include Alexandru Mitrita, the Romanian DP, who provided some of NYCFC’s best moments in that previous meeting.
For the Impact, Ignacio Piatti will again be missing, although his troublesome knee no longer seems to be the problem. Another ailment prevents, but coach Remi Garde hopes his star man will be available for the away games with the Red Bulls and a first-ever visit to Cincinnati. So does all of Montreal.
Bacary Sagna looks very doubtful, although with the form of replacement, Zachary Brault-Guillard, the former Arsenal man’s absence is less critical. Omar Brown after his goalscoring debut may get the nod over Clement Bayiha, also an injury doubt.
Montreal has established Stade Saputo as a fortress. In their last 14 Regular Season home games they’ve won 11 and lost only to last season’s all-conquering Atlanta United. It’s a remarkable run of consistency, although the Impact have not exactly been convincing in their two home victories in 2019, each won by the most slender of margins.
Hard work, tremendous discipline and a little luck have been the key ingredients. The football has not exactly been enterprising, yet there is a lively vibe about the team. Players look confident in that each knows his job, and on football more glittering, that will come when Piatti returns.
“We don’t have the most flamboyant play in MLS, but today I think that we can pull the quintessence of this squad,” said coach, Remi Garde. “If we continue like that, I don’t see why those results wouldn’t continue.”
“I repeat to my players that winning culture is something that is cultivated. To be satisfied with what we’ve done up until now would be a mistake. If we do not know what brought us here, if we think it’s talent, we’re deluding ourselves.“
Acknowledged by a sixth Coach of The Week award in just over a year (no-one else has more than three in that time), Garde certainly has managed to get the best from a squad that has already displayed sufficient resolve to rebound from a couple of notable setbacks this season.
But tomorrow, Stade Saputo will not be witnessing a squad on the rebound. The Bleu/Blanc/Noir head into the game looking for a third successive victory, with the firm intention of consolidating their place at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The opponent however is a dangerous one, as Garde explains -
“I think that this team are playing different football when they are playing away because of many times the pitch is bigger than Yankee Stadium’s. Also, they are playing against teams who are at home, therefore more attacking and leaving more space between the players. In these circumstances, NYCFC can be a very good team.”
Captain, Samuel Piette is also under no illusions of the task in hand and the threat posed.
“I think NYCFC is a very good team with the ball, possession-wise. They have very good players for that like Maxi Morales. Their new striker Heber now plays a few games with them so he’s more comfortable. I think it’s going to be very difficult to contain them for us defensively.”
No-one however will be more determined than the Montreal Bull-dog tomorrow, and no-one, not least he, would want his 50th consecutive appearance (all comps) ruined by gate-crashers from the Big Apple.
IMFC - Bush, Brault-Guillard, Raitala, Diallo, LOvitz - Piette, Azira, Taider - Browne, Urruti, Okwonkwo
NYCFC - Johnson - Chanot, Ibeagha, Callens - Tinnerholm, Ring, Ofori, Sweat - Tajouri-Shadri, Heber, Morales.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Assistant Referees: Eric Boria, Jason White
4th Official: Kevin Broadley
VAR: Ekaterina Koroleva