Thierry Henry is down to the bare bones of a squad which must find a way to gain points on Saturday evening from expansion side Inter-Miami, now finding some form.
Miami had struggled throughout the season, but are now unbeaten in three, including two victories, and will feel momentum is with them.
The Impact will feel they are headed in a different direct, possibly the completely opposite one, with injuries piling up and the likes of Raitala and Diop unavailable for other reasons. Victory at Columbus apart, results have not been good either, and these two clubs could exchange Conference places by the time this one concludes.
As things stand, Montreal has 20 points and sit just above the play-off line, Miami on 18 points are just short of the promised land. So this evening’s outcome is likely to have a crucial bearing on where play-off spots go.
Inter’s improvement hasn’t only been organic of course. They’ve added star quality to their ranks. French midfielder Blaise Matuidi is the only World Cup winner currently playing in MLS and Gonzalo Higuain has now five games under his belt since arriving from Juventus, where he was a multiple Serie A champion.
They’ve also had a solid nucleas with no fewer than five of the squad appearing in all 18 MLS fixtures so far; Scottish international Lewis Morgan, Rodolfo Piazzaro, Victor Ulloa, USA MNT defender Ben Sweat and former Inedependiente (Argentina) defender Nicolas Figal.
Just a few short weeks ago Impact fans would have looked at this one and the previous game against New England, recognizing a potential for all six points, but much has happened in between, rendering optimism in the Impact camp a rare commodity.
Much has rightly been made of the injury crisis affecting the team home-basing itself in New Jersey, and coach Henry awaits day to day information, leaving things to the last moment before selecting his starting XI.
If there’s a positive spin-off it’s the opportunity to give experience to some younger or fringe players, the likes of James Pantemis, Clement Bayiha, Amar Sejdic, Karifa Yao, Joel Waterman and so on, but if the play-offs are to remain a realistic proposition, all on this list will have to grow up very quickly.
Perhaps the prospect of returning home to Montreal for a week will provide the added fillip the Impact needs to go into this one with optimism and a greater determination than when they faced New England most recently.
However, just as Thierry Henry stated last Wednesday night, ““It’s hard to be positive after that,” it’s difficult to be optimistic about his team’s chances tomorrow evening. They’ll hope Bojan’s fitness is confirmed, for all the experience they can muster will be needed.
Victor Wanyama may be sacrificed in midfield to play in the centre of a back five, lacking Binks (suspended) and Fanni (injured, hamstring). If not, any back line would have to include the inexperienced Yao and Waterman and error-prone Camacho (Raitala is isolating after returning from international duty), in front of rookie goalkeeper, Pantemis. One can imagine Gonzalo Higuain licking his lips already...
It’s true of course in sport, that triumph can be found from adversity, and that reputations can blossom and flourish as a young, inexperienced player rises unexpectedly to the occasion.
There’s clear potential for such a situation tomorrow evening. With Higuain, Matuidi and Pellegrini laying in wait, it’s the perfect opportunity for one of the Montreal young guns or fringe players to step up and make a name for himself.
Not too many north of the border will be holding their breath however, plenty will be crossing their fingers... and toes!
Projected Line-Ups -
IMFC - Pantemis - Brault-Guillard, Yao, Camacho, Waterman, Shome - Wanyama, Piette, Sejdic - Bojan, Quioto.
Inter - McCarthy - Nealis, Figal, Gonzalez-Pirez, Sweat - Matuidi, Trapp, Ulloa - Morgan, Higuain, Pellegrini
Match Officials -
Referee: Timothy Ford
Asst Ref: Kyle Atkins, Adam Wienchowski
4th Official: Luis Arroyo
VAR: Edvin Jurisevic