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Play-off Countdown: Henry Must Find a Way To Unseat Coach Cool

Impact coach must find a way to deal with New England.

New England Revolution v Montreal Impact
In four matches this season, experienced coach Bruce Arena’s team has bested Thierry Henry’s three times...
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

If losing multiple times to a frequently-faced opponent, eventually gives you an advantage, then the match-up kicking off the 2020 MLS Play-offs is not so much a foregone conclusion as many might think.

Of course it will be difficult for Thierry Henry’s men, who will be without inspirational Sam Piette, and most probably Victor Wanyama too, but in defeat you tend to learn more about your opponent than in victory. Henry and Montreal must trust they can close the gap on rivals who’ve not been great this season, but clearly been much the better in the last three match-ups between the sides.

To do this and win Henry must overcome the most successful of all MLS coaches, Bruce Arena, whose Coffee with the Coach interview with Elizabeth Pehota earlier in the week uncovered a consummately relaxed former national team boss.

Arena possessed the demeanour of a man who’d seen it all and was back for a second or third time. He was Joe Cool, articulating calmly the effects of the covid-infested season on his team, its lack of consistency and how he expects Montreal to be an unhappy opponent coming into Gillette Stadium.

Henry, much younger, is a different character of course. Estranged from family back in Europe, whom he hasn’t seen for nine months, he’s undoubtedly had a tougher year than his New England counterpart.

By comparison the Frenchman looks tired and worn out, often agitated and during press conferences has at times, looked plainly fed-up.

But he retains a burning desire to win, to be successful, and after all the challenges 2020 has presented, no-one can say he’s not a fighter. He’s also inspirational and demands of his players the desire and will to win that he himself possessed as a top player.

New England has a more settled side than Montreal who are at best a team in transition trying very hard to win a few soccer matches on their journey of change.

But they’ve had their moments and Arena is too experienced a coach to take them as lightly as his laid-back public persona might suggest.

“Hopefully all our guys will be at full speed on Friday because we’re going to need that. Montreal’s a team we have played four times already this season. We’ve been pretty successful and they know that and they won’t be happy coming into Gillette Stadium, so it’s really going to be challenging. It’s going to be a nail-biter.”

Montreal Impact v D.C. United
Mustafa Kizza could get his first start for Montreal Impact at Gillette Stadium tomorrow evening.

In what has been a constant this season, Henry must once again juggle his line-up. Injuries, suspensions, players on international duty have been continual disruptions in 2020. He’ll be shaping his line-up to counteract a physically strong opponent and apart from his dilemma in midfield must decide to go with one or two players up front.

I hope he is prepared to play the pressing game with two front men, neither of whom can be Bojan, who must fill in behind the twin spearhead. Quioto is an automatic choice, but who partners the Honduran? Three options, Urruti, Toye or Jackson-Hamel.

I would go with Toye, fresh from his assist for the winning goal against DC United, a play hopefully that will have done him the world of good. Of the others you will get plenty of industry. Urruti on the bench can help when defending a lead, or if it’s a goal you need, there’s a better chance Jackson-Hamel will answer the call.

A back three when defending, cum five going forward, should comprise Fanni, Binks and Raitala if recovered from injury, in the centre. Brault-Guillard and Kizza should take the wide positions. Kizza’s relative inexperience is not a barrier when the option is Jorge Corrales. The young Ugandan looks fit and a player who can add an attacking dimension. He’s not been tested yet defensively, but I consider this a calculated risk worth taking.

The coaching staff will have observed the youngster closely in training, and will make a call based on that, but Kizza must be in their thoughts for a starting spot.

I would play Joel Waterman in the central defensive midfield slot alongside Bojan further advanced and on the left. That leaves the right midfield position. To maintain a balance it needs to be a disciplined player who will support the marauding surges forward of Brault-Guillard. Steeven Saba may come into the reckoning, but without game time this season, is likely to emerge from the bench if we are to see him at all, which leaves Sejdic and Maciel. It could come down to whichever of the pair has performed best in training, although right midfield is more suited to the American.

Either way, there’s a case for each man requiring to be more robust defensively.

It needs to be a high energy contribution from the Impact midfield three, or five, in what could be a pulsating, helter-skelter of a match.

SOCCER: JUL 27 MLS - Orlando City SC at New England Revolution
Bunbury, Bou and Gil, a trio of New England danger men the Impact must get to grips with tomorrow evening.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Montreal cannot afford to sit back and invite the likes of Bou, Bunbury, Gil and the improving Buksa on to them. They must be brave, committed and find the desire that Thierry Henry talks about, to make up for commodities deficient elsewhere.

So will it be the wily, relaxed, old head or the agitated, still scrapping, younger coach with a burning passion to succeed, that wins the day?

Montreal hopes it can be the latter.

Projected Line-ups -

NE Revs: Turner - Bye, Farrell, Kessler, Buttner - Caldwell, Buchanan, Bunbury, Gil - Buksa, Bou

IMFC: Diop - Brault-Guillard, Fanni, Binks, Raitala, Kizza - Waterman, Sejdic, Bojan - Quioto, Toye

Match Officials - to be announced.