Four defeats and a draw in their last five, and about to face the table-toppers in the East in a few hours... it just doesn’t get any easier for Thierry Henry and his Montreal Impact.
But despite the absence of top-scorer Romell Quioto (injured), the pendulum may yet be swinging a little voraciously towards the Crew. The Impact welcome back Luis Binks into central defence and could see Saphir Taider return to action following injury.
They are also boosted by the recent form of Bojan Krkic coinciding with his return to health and have the option of new signing Mason Toye upon which to call. Caleb Porter’s Crew have injury concerns of their own, most notably to Luca Zelarayan, their Argentinian play-maker and goalkeeper Eloy Room. Darlington Nagbe, another notable also remains doubtful, but could make it.
Henry is under no illusions however...
“They are a team with a good coach and good players. It’s a great roster they have built and you have to respect that. That’s why they are at the top at the moment.
“They are very difficult to play against. Obviously Zelarayan is not playing , but they have a guy that might come back in Nagbe, then the players they have in midfield, at the back and Zardes.... guys on the side who can dribble, [possess] pace, power and they can pass the ball too, so we expect a tough game.
“But we are not going there to get beaten.”
One player who gives the Impact boss reason for optimism is his diminutive Catalan front man, Bojan, whose form in recent games has more reflected the player everyone knows he can be. He’s looked lively, making more direct runs and in facing players one to one. Bojan’s confidence has increased alongside his fitness, and the east two goals have been a product of his powerful shooting from range.
“Bojan knows what he needs to do,” says Henry. “He is getting better and had that goal against New England. When you score a goal it can give you more confidence.
“If he turns and shoots and goes forward, he’s a difficult guy to defend against as you saw the other night on a 1 v 1 situation and when he’s in that mood it’s very difficult to stop him when he drops the shoulder and tries to score.
“It’s very important to have guys on the team like this. At one point football comes down to 1 v 1, defensively and offensively, and when you have a guy that can unbalance a team... that’s why Ballou if he can come back, or Bojan from midfield... it’s nothing to do with tactic, it’s someone unbalancing someone else.”
Bojan himself, feels that his form has improved in line with his fitness and the encouragement from his coach to get into the opposition box more.
“I’ve been injured, it’s been a weird year, I don’t know how many pre-season trainings we have had already, but that is not an excuse.
“The coach is helping to push me. He knows me as a player and what I can bring. He wants to see me more in the box, that I can go to the goal more. It’s what I want as well; to be involved in more goals and more assists.”
The former Barcelona man’s mood on the pitch in recent games is reflected in his words. He’s looked happier, fitter and simply more effective. Goals help too, as the joy on his face and reaction to his rocket against New England cannot disguise.
Bojan looks likely to team up with a new striker this evening. In 6 ft 3 in Mason Toye there should undoubtedly be a physical presence up front, another element that could tempt the best out of the resurgent 30-year-old.
The Impact hopes ‘Little and Large’ could be a strike force that causes problems for the Crew tonight.
Montreal are best-priced 11/2 with the bookies this evening, and 13/8 not to lose. Columbus are at best-priced short-odds of 8/15 to win.
Projected Line-ups -
Crew - Tarbell - Afful, Mensah, Williams, Valenzuela - Berhalter, Santos, Artur - Diaz, Zartes, Mokhtar
IMFC - Diop - Brault-Guillard, Fanni, Binks, Raitala - Wanyama, Piette, Taider, Lappalainen - Bojan, Toye
Referee: Victor Rivas
Asst Refs: Peter Balciunas, C.J. Morgante
4th Official: Lukasz Szpala
VAR: Fotis Bazakos