There’s a lot going on in the soccer world of Montreal Impact captain Jukka Raitala.
Short-term national team commitments, potential MLS play-offs, resumption of CONCACAF Champions League, and the delayed 2020 Euros, the first tournament his country has ever qualified for.
But all are on the back-burner for now. Sunday is the Finland international’s sole focus, and has been since the most recent loss to Orlando City.
He refuses to take anything for granted and refuses to look ahead.
“My focus is fully on Sunday. It’s a last opportunity for us to secure a play-off spot. Everything remains in our own hands. It’s a big game, a very important game and I am focussing fully on that.
“I have been called and will travel with the national team. It’s an honour to go there, but like I said my head is only here right now, to focus and to win on Sunday.”
Raitala remains unsure what the protocols will be for his return, post international duty and hopes the League and authorities can come to an arrangement helping travelling players and clubs forced to release their players for international duty.
Clearly he wants to win on Sunday and participate in play-off football but if the same rules are in place as in his last international call-up, then the chances of Impact’s captain appearing in a possible first play-off game, 20 November, are non-existent.
Raitala feels his Impact team is good enough to extend the season and thinks fixing the mentality is key to achieving better results than what we’ve seen this year.
“You know... I feel it’s mental. We have quality players, fantastic roster, if you compare to many other MLS clubs, our quality is good.
“Sometimes it’s bad luck, sometimes it’s lack of whatever it is, but I think we have to focus on ourselves, be positive and believe in ourselves. And you know if we do that and we fight as hard as we can, it will pay the price for sure.”
You get the impression Raitala is content with his lot despite the challenging season everyone has endured. His contract runs out at year end and he speaks of how happy he’s been in Montreal with the team and how much of an honour it’s been to be entrusted with the captaincy.
Again he’s not looking too far ahead but will have to address his contract situation soon after the Impact’s season concludes.
“What happens after this year, I don’t know, honestly, but I want to think about the upcoming games, then after the season we shall see.”
Raitala is really not one to dwell too incisively on the difficulties of Covid-2020, instead taking things in his stride and remaining thankful he gets to play soccer for a living. An interesting perspective in a sports world where well-remunerated subjects take their place much more for granted than the Finn.
It’s probably helped him deal with the adversity this season his produced, whether it be stationing in hotels for extended periods or travelling through ever-changing protocols to play for his national team.
“The locker room is good. We spend every day together, 24/7, which we were not used to before this span of environment, but it is what it is.
“We’re professionals. We’re here to play, to perform, and a few more days and we’re almost there. It’s been a very long season, a lot of ups and downs and now is really time to show our character and show we can and will be a play-off team.
“We all love this sport and we are each privileged to play soccer as professionals.”
Jukka Raitala’s calendar for the Finnish national team dictates he leaves Washington after the Decision Day game against DC United for Paris where he will meet up with his national team colleagues. They have a prestige friendly game against France at Stade de France on 11 November before the more serious stuff of Nations League football begins.
It’s two games on the road for Finland, who trail Wales by a point at the top of League B Group 4. Firstly they take on Bulgaria on 15 November, then the big one in Cardiff to decide the group and which nation will be promoted to League A.
But first, it’s all eyes and effort on the US capital where on Sunday the words ‘moment of truth’ for Impact fans will have much more to do with a soccer result than the outcome of a seemingly never-ending election.