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Impact on Countdown

Montreal set for big international show-down as the serious stuff gets underway.

SOCCER: SEP 18 Canadian Soccer Championship - Toronto FC at Montreal Impact
Impact hopes a return to continental competition for Bojan bring with it some goals.
Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first game of any season is often a hard one to call.

Impact’s clash with Deportivo Saprissa has a few more unusual conditions than normal surrounding it, so it’s not all that easy to forecast the outcome.

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Impact’s first game, Saprissa are match-conditioned, nine league games into their season.
Not many Impact players experienced in this type of game. Not so those wearing the burgundy of the Costa Rican team. They’re used to it!

Impact have new players in Quioto, Waterman, Saba and possibly Binks. Saprissa is settled and lead their league after ten rounds (even though they’ve only played 9 times).

Saprissa also have a settled coach in Walter Centeno. Montreal has Thierry Henry about to take charge of his first serious game.

But we’re about to see how things will go. The long wait is almost over.

FBL-CONCACAF-MOTAGUA-SAPRISSA-PRESSER
Walter Centeno goes head to head with Thierry Henry tomorrow evening, hoping to plot the downfall of IMFC’s Champions League hopes.
Photo by ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP via Getty Images

Good Start is Imperative
A good start is imperative. It could be the confidence booster this Montreal squad needs. There are fans out there, mainly due to the loss of a certain Argentinian, who think the squad has not been strengthened from last season. Others see the new arrivals and the return of others as positive, but still sit on the fence due to the loss of their talisman.

There’s salary room now of course, but when will that be utilized? Certainly not now, not before the season begins.

Impact fans will not lose sight of the fact that the exhilarating Champions League run of 2015 carried over into the club’s best-ever MLS season the following year when two play-off rounds were successfully negotiated before coming up just short in an exciting Conference Final series. We’d like to see more of the same please (but win the Conference Final this time please).

But I’ll take a boring 0-0 tomorrow night, right now! Prefer some kind of score-draw of course, but failing that, a clean sheet is a highly beneficial outcome all things considered.

And I’m not basing my hopes and wishes on pre-season results either. Encouraging they may not have been, but they simply don’t matter a lot at the same time.

I just don’t yet see that the Impact possesses a squad well enough configured to take on a dangerous, conditioned opponent, top of its league and expect to prevail despite having not yet having played competitively this season. Under more regular conditions I’d see the Impact as favourites for the tie, but not just at the moment.

And to go out at this early stage would be a bitter pill to swallow, after the joy of finally becoming Canadian Champions again and earning the opportunity to pit Montreal wits against the top clubs on the continent for the first time in five long years.

Tomorrow evening looks an even call to me, but I won’t be surprised should Henry’s first competitive game end in defeat. It won’t surprise either if it’s by more than one goal. Saprissa has a very good home record in Champions League, and they’ve had a week’s rest.
Montreal must be ready. This is the real deal.

The longer it remains 0-0 of course the better. I don’t see Thierry Henry playing any other way but defensively. I’m not sure enough confidence flows in Impact veins to take the game to Saprissa in front of a partisan crowd. It wouldn’t be wise anyway. But Impact will be hoping it’s not a case of No Nacho - No Goals.

If the Impact is to pierce the home side’s rearguard, and in two-legged ties, away from home as an MLS club they always have, you suspect the key to be the little Serbian-Spaniard, Bojan. He is the sorcerer in the absence of Piatti, who we must stop talking about soon.

If the chances don’t fall to him, then you have to expect he will be the fulcrum of attack creating opportunities for others, most likely Okwonkwo or Quioto.

Portland Timbers v Montreal Impact
Orji Okwonkwo - hopes pinned on the Montreal club’s 2019 MVP to produce some goals.
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Saprissa have lost just once in nine league games this calendar year and top the table on points along with rivals Herediano, but with a game in hand. Their last result a week ago was a consummate 3-0 victory at fourth-placed Jicaral (3-0), no push-over, and that particular club’s only home defeat in six, during this Clausura.

Deportivo were given a free weekend in preparation for tomorrow evening’s clash, although interestingly they appear to have a game scheduled only four days prior to the return in Montreal. That however could change at short notice.

I’m going to stay optimistic. A 1-2 first-leg reverse is my prediction, all the while hoping Henry and his men can prove me inexorably wrong!