Montreal walked, or should that be strolled nonchalantly, into a white, New England whirlwind last night at Red Bull Arena.
The intensity on display from Bruce Arena’s much-changed outfit was simply too much for Henry’s depleted side in a ninety minutes that was not short on narrative.
In fact the story began early afternoon when news broke of Saphir Taider’s transfer to Al-Ain of Saudi Arabia and continued with the exclusion of Clement Diop who departed for France for personal reasons.
To those two, add Bojan, Brault-Guillard, Saba, Lappalainen, Okwonkwo, Choiniere, Jackson-Hamel, Maciel (all injured) and captain Jukka Raitala (away on international duty with Finland). A full team of players unavailable to Thierry Henry as he prepared for the evening.
And it got worse. The Impact lost experienced defender Rod Fanni (hamstring) on the stroke of half-time and Luis Binks’ fifth yellow card (two of these combined for a red against the Red Bulls) in the last six games brings suspension and perpetuates the problem.
Should the Impact go into their next game in three days against Inter-Miami deploying three centre-backs, Gonzalo Higuain will face, Camacho, Waterman and Yao.
It was the first of those three whose error let in New England for its first goal, his too pedestrian approach inviting challenge, allowing Buksa to tear away and cross for Manneh to side foot into an empty goal. All too easy, and notable for yet another Camacho mistake. How many more must Impact fans endure?
Such was the intensity of New England the only surprise was it had taken them 12 minutes to get on the board. The Impact continued to defend far too deeply and possibly subconsciously to protect a nervous debutant goalkeeper, but all it served to do was invite continued pummelling by a New England side, clearly in the mood.
Bunbury headed in a second, confirmed only after VAR overturned Mr Dickerson’s original decision, Clement Bayiha out wide having played everyone on-side. It was the right call, ultimately.
The Impact not only reached the interval without incurring further damage, but managed to claw a goal back themselves, Quioto the architect, Sejdic the scorer, his second in as many games.
But within seven minutes of the restart the two goal deficit was restored. Fagundez’s ball between Camacho and Waterman allowed Buksa to accept, and despite being surrounded by the Impact defenders and Pantemis, the Pole’s strength and persistence won the day, 3-1 Revs!
Montreal discovered a lifeline in the first of four added minutes when the excellent Quioto accepted Urruti’s low cross and remained composed before sliding a perfect ball to Ballou-Tabla, who converted high into the net desire the presence of five white-shirted defenders. It was the Canadian international’s first MLS goal since scoring at RFK Stadium in May 2017.
Ballou-Tabla although not yet match-fit showed some glimpses of his old self. His 35-minute appearance contained more than we’ve seen from him in 14 months since his return from Spain. Montreal needs to get this player fit and operating. He showed last night he can still contribute.
Thierry Henry has often decried his bench-strength, not in words, but in actions, or lack thereof. It’s easy to have sympathy with the coach, and the cupboard was even more bare last evening but even at full-strength a glaringly obvious question remains. Is squad depth adequate to be even in contention for a play-off spot? Seventeen defeats in the last seventeen MLS games when the Impact has trailed at half-time, suggests the answer is obvious.
With the unavailability list growing, Impact’s line-up, Saturday, almost picks itself. If you can walk, you’re in! The ridiculous schedule has undoubtedly taken its toll. You need look no further than Wanyama and Piette toiling in the team’s engine-room to see that. Both players radiate a brave face. Each looks physically shot.
It’s not good to watch. But with Covid, it’s this type of football or none at all.
The players probably can’t see Inter-Miami far enough away, instead the human thought of getting home is naturally uppermost in their heads. But they must summon up one more huge effort before departing Harrison, derive strength and resolve from the lopsided conditions they face and will themselves on to victory over Miami, by hook, or by crook.
Perhaps a new hero will emerge. Certainly it’s a time when Thierry Henry must invoke all the great leadership qualities he possessed as a player and transfix them upon his team for three more days. After that some respite will be at hand.
IMFC - Pantemis - Bayiha (Corrales, 46) - Camacho, Binks, Fanni (Waterman, 45+2), Shome (Urruti, 72) - Wanyama, Piette, Sejdic - Quioto, Toye
NE Revs - Turner - Jones, Mancienne, Mlinar Delamea, Buttner (Bye, 71) - Polster, Rowe (Bou, 70) (Farrell, 90+3) - Bunbury, Fagundez (McNamara, 77), Manneh (Buchanan, 46) - Buksa
Match Officials -
Referee: Joseph Dickerson
Asst Refs: Claudiu Badea, Ian McKay
4thOfficial: Sergii Demianchuk
VAR: Chris Penso