There’s not much going for Montreal Impact as they resume MLS play tomorrow evening against Portland Timbers.
The injury list has eased slightly after three weeks off, but still unavailable will be Ignacio Piatti and Clement Bayiha, and while further doubts surround Okwonkwo, Choiniere and Sagna, they should at least be nearing fitness and therefore possibilities to face the second successive Cascadian opponent to visit Stade Saputo.
Definitely missing will be the international five: Piette, Brault-Guillard, Lovitz, Azira and Browne, but at least Jukka Raitala has returned from duty with Finland.
Remi Garde will again need to get creative at this most challenging time of the season. The last thing Montreal will want is for its improved road for this season to be undone by a failure to capitalize when at home.
Talking of road form, the Timbers are the only side in MLS to have played more away games this season than the Impact, having been forced on the longest road trip in MLS history - 12 games - while their new Providence Park was renovated.
So, like Montreal, they are a side that’s become used playing away, where they have lost only once in their last six MLS trips.
They’ve also been active, unlike tomorrow evening’s hosts, who have not played since June 5. In that time Portland have played two US Open Cup matches and resumed MLS play last weekend. All three games were won with a record of 10 goals for and 1 against.
International duty also effects them less, with only Andres Flores and Andy Polo called up by their countries.
So, a tall order for the Impact tomorrow evening. Team selection is difficult to predict, but you expect that Remi Garde will have a pragmatic plan up his sleeve, as is his wont.
I don’t expect it to be pretty, or for there to be lots of goals, provided the visitors’ men in form can be managed.
Brian Fernandez (24), the Argentinian striker who recently on-boarded from Mexico’s Necaxa has hit the ground running and is sure to prove a major handful for Diallo, Railtala and company.
A goal tomorrow night will see him break the MLS record for a newcomer of scoring in each of his first 5 games in MLS. Fernandez has registered 5 in 4 MLS games, and 8 in 6, when you factor in US Open Cup ties.
Remi Garde is aware of the danger.
“He really brought new life to this team, which was already strong. We can’t just focus on Fernandez, it would leave much room for [Diego] Valeri, [Sebastian] Blanco and young [Marvin] Loria, who made a very good first game.”
”We can not focus on one player, and know that [Portland] is a strong team offensively that defends well too. We will need a great collective concentration when we do not have the ball. We must prevent the opponent from taking too much confidence. “
Diego Valeri with one goal and 3 assists in the 4-0 drubbing of Houston at the weekend, scooped MLS Player of Week 16 honours, and they also had Costa Rican Marvin Laria chip in, to become the sixth Timbers player to make a goal-scoring MLS debut.
The Timbers lie one off the bottom of the Western Conference, but significantly they do have games in hand of all the others and a plethora of home dates to come. Tellingly they are only a mere 3 points off the seventh and last play-off spot. It’s a team in form, and the situation in which they find themselves bears well for the post-season argument.
Montreal will be attempting to consolidate second place in the East, albeit with more games played than those around them. It will be a night to dig deeply and hopefully grind out a result. It’s also night to wonder about the depth of the squad and MLS fixture scheduling, given the current challenges being faced.
Although the Impact has not experienced the intensity of a competitive match for 21 days, the break was still beneficial according to top-scorer, Saphir Taider , who makes his 50th MLS appearance against Portland.
”It’s good for me and for everyone. We needed it after playing a lot of games.“
His coach seems a little less convinced.
”Nothing can replace the concentration and physical intensity of a match. This is where we will have to be vigilant. On the other hand, over 90 minutes, I hope we will have the strength to go all the way, having not played for three weeks.“
Projected Line-Ups -
IMFC - Bush - Raitala, Diallo, Camacho - Sagna, Krolicki, Taider, Choiniere, Kinumbe - Shome, Urruti.
Timbers - Clark - Moreira, Mabiala, Cascante, Villafana - Chara, Zambrano - Loria, Valeri, Ebobisse - Fernandez.
Referee - Rubiel Vazquez
Asst Refs - Andrew Bigelow, Richard Gamache
4th Official - Fotis Bazakos
VAR - Jon Freemon