Montreal Impact will be hoping last weekend’s 4-0 trouncing of Eastern table-toppers proves a watershed in their season.
With Nacho Piatti healthy again and the addition of flying Finn, Lassi Lappalainen, all of a sudden they look like an offensive side carrying a very real threat. Opponents will be required to rethink strategy.
Instead of facing a sterile Impact, they must set-up to combat Piatti, the pivot, and pacy wide men in Lappalainen and Okwonkwo, another who contributed a memorable performance against the Union.
Colorado Rapids may be bottom of the pile in the Western Conference, but tomorrow evening’s challenge is likely to be more taxing in reality than it looks on paper. The Rapids have gone 5-3-3 since Conor Casey replaced Anthony Hudson as coach and have beaten both LA clubs without conceding a goal.
But the factor that looms large over all others for tomorrow night’s visitors is altitude. Denver is over 5,000 feet above sea-level, and while some players may shrug off the prospects of altitude, Evan Bush is not so sure and keen to remind.
“I hope the guys will be prepared for this challenge. The new MLS [players] do not always understand, they think it will not be a problem. Their match begins and they are dead 20 minutes later. It’s different (altitude), but it can be seen as a link to suffering,” Bush said.
The Impact must stay focused and use mind over matter to defeat altitude. Six other visiting teams have won in Denver this season.
It’s the beginning of a huge August in which they will play five matches in its first two weeks, including the two-legged Canadian Championship final against a Cavalry side that will be out to prove it’s no pushover.
Said Remi Garde, “The change of coach was pretty positive for the team. Also, I learned that in the MLS, you should not look too much at the rankings because that does not mean much. I think we have to look at the fitness of the teams, and indeed, Colorado, according to what I looked at, is a solid team.
“There is a level of athletic involvement that is quite important. They are dangerous on set pieces. This is a team that, for me, is not the same compared to the beginning of the season. The standings today reflect a failed start to the season, but not the last 10 or 12 games. “
It will be surprising if Garde does not start with the same line-up as last week, even if he wishes not to burden Piatti with too many games at this stage of a rehabilitation that seems to be going well.
But the full squad will be needed throughout this most demanding of months, and clearly Piatti is unlikely to start all games.
An old foe awaits in the altitude for the Impact. Kei Camara, now 34, is top scorer for the Rapids this season with 8, and if they are about to break a four-game winless streak they will need the former Middlesbrough and Norwich City striker to be on top of his game.
Kamara has enjoyed matches in the past against the Montrealers, no matter who he’s been representing. His record of 11 career goals against the Bleu/Blanc/Noir is unsurpassed, so there’s plenty of reason why Zakario Diallo’s role in defence could be key to victory.
The Frenchman will need to be on his toes from the outset. It promises to be a fascinating duel, one that can help lead to a record 5th Montreal away win in one season, should Diallo keep the man from Sierra Leone quiet.
Line-ups (projected) -
Rapids - Irwin - Rosenberry, Abubakar, Smith, Vines - Nicholson, Rubio Koster, Wilson, Acosta, Lewis - Kamara
IMFC - Bush - Sagna, Diallo, Raitala, Lovitz - Okwonkwo, Shome, Taider, Lappalainen - Piatti, Urruti
Match Officials -
Referee: Marcos Deoliveira
Assistant Referees: Nick Uranga, Kyle Longville
4th Official: Allen Chapman
VAR: Dave Gantar