New England coach Bruce Arena is expecting the Impact to sit in tight behind the ball when the teams clash at Gillette Stadium in Friday evening’s first MLS play-off fixture of 2020.
“Teams are going to obviously play to win [in the play-offs]. There are some teams which will probably try to get into penalty kicks, everyone’s a little bit different. I can’t tell you what Montreal’s approach is going to be.
“My guess is it’s going to be a typical game that we see in Gillette Stadium, where the visiting team does put a priority on getting numbers behind the ball. So I would expect we’ll see that out of Montreal.”
If that’s how road teams have set themselves up at New England, then for the most part the tactic has been a successful one. In ten home games this season, the Revs have failed to score in five and won only two, both against teams which finished below them in the Eastern Conference, DC United and perhaps significantly, Montreal Impact.
Five of their games at the Foxboro venue have been drawn and three have ended in defeats to New York City, Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union.
Of course the only statistic that decides the game will be the goal tally columns on Friday night, but New England’s home form this season will be a source of encouragement for an Impact eleven missing Victor Wanyama and Samuel Piette.
If there was a hint of concern in Arena’s voice, then maybe it’s justified, but then again, he knows a thing or two about play-off football. In MLS no other coach comes within 6 of his record tally of play-off wins.
The former US-national team boss by his own admission has possibly not yet settled on his best line-up this season, especially with Carles Gil available again after injury, but says the days for tinkering are over.
“We have to get it right by Friday. We utilized last week and will be utilizing this week to make sure we have the right group of players on the field and we have the right approach each and every game. Hopefully there’s going to be more than one play-off game.”
Meanwhile rookie Henry Kessler, 22, has just been named Revs Defender of the Year and is looking forward to crossing swords again with the Impact.
“In a way play-offs are a fresh start. Certainly not new in the sense that we’re the 8th seed and we’ll be playing Montreal, but you know we’ve played them before, so we’ll look to build of some of the good results we’ve had against them.
“Obviously we’ve beaten them three times and hopefully we can do that again, but in a sense it is a fresh start.”
Kessler made his professional debut against the Impact at Stade Olympique back in February, but feels this Friday will not bear any reflection to that occasion.
“I think the emotions are slightly different. In February I was going into my very first professional match so I was a bit nervous, really wanting to show well. I think I have a bit more confidence now, so the emotions are slightly different, and of course the stakes are higher now.
“I’ve a few more games under my belt and hopefully can use that experience to help me.”
For a player who seems to collect firsts against Montreal; first MLS match, first MLS goal and first play-off match, Impact fans will be hoping Kessler doesn’t add his first play-off win to his collection of achievements against Montreal, this Friday.