A colleague of mine settled in the stand at Stade Saputo on 21 May last year, his young son alongside. “Just watch the number 9, son. You’re going to see something special, a magnificent player, something you don’t normally see.”
What transpired of course was, well, not a lot, but his young son did get to see a world star receive his marching orders before the first-half had elapsed. Not much consolation really, and not much solace for the Impact either in a 0-1 defeat against ten-men.
Not so much at home, but ‘nil’ is the traditional goal tally for the Impact at 18400 Avalon Boulevard. They’ve never scored there in three visits, and things won’t be helped this evening by the absences of Bojan, Urruti and Piatti.
With two of that trio carrying injuries and the third returning from a lengthy spell on the sidelines, it’s clear where Montreal’s priorities now lie at the end of a largely disappointing season.
It’s highly unlikely a play-off spot can be secured now even with an unexpected win in LA, so tonight’s starting line-up is another that’s not all that easy to predict with Wednesday’s crucial date with Toronto FC looming.
It does however provide an opportunity to blood Orji Okwonkwo as a central striker for the first time, an interesting prospect which could reap dividends with his pace, powerful running and robust style. Neither coach this season has particularly fancied this as an option. Sometimes an enforced selection as this would be if it happens, brings with it a pleasant surprise. We must wait and see.
Of course at the other end of the field there’s that ‘number 9’, Zlatan. The Swede can rightfully claim to be one of the best players, if not THE GREATEST EVER to grace MLS arenas, no matter he’s in the latter stages of a glittering career. Actually he, himself, would say ‘DEFINITELY the greatest-ever’.
His sum total contribution in games against the Impact so far amounts to one slap on the side of Michael Petrasso’s head, and an ensuing red card, but with ten goals in his last six outings, and 26 in all this season, one feels the huge inevitability of Ibra adding positively to that narrative. Especially since Montreal’s focus remains fixed on achieving success in the national championship, and LA are realistically chasing a top three spot in the West.
His last game brought a hat-trick in an outrageous 7-2 battering of Sporting KC. Sporting KC and the number ‘7’ brings back painful memories for Impact fans, and they will hope this is not some kind of omen. Instead the Montreal faithful will cling to the fact that the Galaxy were winless in five before the SKC demolition.
There are other ponderables for Wilmer Cabrera. Does he use his namesake Victor at centre-back so soon after coming back from injury on Wednesday night, does 36-year-old Bacary Sagna resume in central defence where he performed so effectively in midweek, is it more important to rest both these players with Wednesday in mind? If they’ve travelled, and they have, one assumes at least one will see action. It’s probably not the best move, after all, to pitch young Kalifa Yao into the mix with Ibrahimovic so rampant, but Rod Fanni will surely make his return.
Ballou may also get a start wide right in attack, allowing Lappalainen to be kept in reserve with Wednesday night, and Toronto, in mind.
Line-ups (projected) -
LAG - Bingham - Araujo, Steres, Polenta, Romney - Corona, Lletget, Dos Santos - Antuna, Ibrahimovic, Pavon
IMFC - Diop - Brault-Guillard, Fanni, Cabrera, Yao - Bayiha, Piette, Taider, Shome - Ballou, Okwonkwo
Match Officials -
Referee: Kevin Stott
Assistant Referees: Jeff Hosking, Chris Elliott
4th Official: Michael Radchuk
VAR: Edvin Jurisevic