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Impact In The Driving Seat

Preview of this evening’s epic encounter at Stade Olimpique...

Thierry Henry and Saprissa coach Walter Centeno exchange pleasantries prior to the first-leg...
Photo by JOHN DURAN/AFP via Getty Images

Montreal Impact go into their first Champions League match at home for five years at ‘The Big O’ tonight as favourites.

Progress into the last eight of the competition is not assured however; opponents Deportivo Saprissa being much further advanced than the Montrealers in terms of match-conditioning. But those two invaluable away goals chiselled out a week ago in the Monster’s Cave puts the Impact in the driving seat.

Thierry Henry surprised Impact observers with his tactical approach and formation seven days ago and there could be a second dose of unpredictability this evening.

The Impact coach has been keeping his cards close to his chest, expelling the press after 10 mins of a training session earlier this week.

Does he exercise caution, hoping to get the first goal, then play more conservatively relying on the break? Or do the Impact go for broke from the get-go in an attempt to demoralize the Costa Ricans and kill the tie.

I think we’re more likely to see the former. I also don’t see Saprissa coming out with all guns blazing right from the off. Based on what we saw last week, The Purple Monster will be aware Montreal is likely to become leggy as the game progresses. The latter stages could be the time for the visitors to strike decisively.

Impact fans will hope Romell Quioto, impressive in the first-leg, wins his fitness battle to ensure inclusion this evening..
Photo by JOHN DURAN/AFP via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine a further seven days will have bolstered the match-fitness of Henry’s men sufficiently to match Deportivo’s. It goes without saying tactics and planning will have accounted for this. What the French World Cup winner will be hoping for however is a bit more luck with injuries.

Henry would have had some pre-conceived ideas around conserving the good situation his side found themselves in before 25 mins had elapsed in the first-leg. But best laid plans were scuppered by first-half injuries to Rudy Camacho and Orji Okwonkwo, necessitating enforced substitutions on each occasion.

The coach is the first to acknowledge his charges suffered under pressure in last week’s second half.

”We expect the same kind of game [tonight],” said Henry. “We tried to manage the players who were a little tired, players needed to recover, but it is normal before a second game in season.

“They didn’t have 90 minutes in their legs [last week], that’s no excuse, it’s a fact,”

“I don’t know if we will be able to reach them physically and all the MLS teams find themselves in this situation.

”But we also have to stop talking about it, it disrespects Saprissa, who knew how to adapt and change tactics.“

Word on the street in San Jose is that coach Centeno has been put under pressure by Deportivo’s hierarchy to prevail in the tie. The former international player was defiant and in confident mood...

“You are going to see the same fighting team that will try to qualify,” said Centeno.

Saprissa warmed up for this evening’s clash by defeating strugglers La U Universatrios in league action at the weekend. Thirty-five year-old top scorer Christian Bolanos claimed a hat-trick.

Rudy Camacho looks set to miss out with injury, so it’s first chance for Montreal fans to get a glimpse of former Tottenham back-up player and England u19 international, Luis Binks.

It’s a huge game for the youngster in which to make his debut, but the coaching staff will be confident in his ability to perform.

Only a fool would predict Henry’s team formation, but I suspect Montreal may revert to a flat back-four, with new captain Raitala in his favoured left-back role. Fanni should partner Binks in central defence with Brault-Guillard again getting the start on the right hand side.

Sam Piette is likely to be joined in midfield by Sejdic again, but possibly also by Taider, ruled out by injury in the first-leg. That leaves room for an attacking trident of Bojan, Quioto and Okwonkwo, providing the latter pair are declared fit.

This time five years ago, former Impact midfielder John Venegas, a scorer last week, was in the opposition for Alajuelense at Stade Olympique. He’ll not want to experience the same outcome, but Impact fans will have no complaints should Venegas go home disappointed again.

Ariel Rodriguez (arms outstretched) and former Impact man Johan Venegas (7), were the scorers in the Purple Monster’s Late, Late Show seven days ago.
Photo by JOHN DURAN/AFP via Getty Images

Line-ups -

IMFC - Diop - Brault-Guillard, Binks, Fanni, Raitala - Piette, Sejdic, Taider - Okwonkwo, Bojan, Quioto

Deportivo - Cruz, Barrantes, david, Guzman, Miller - Bolanos, Angulo, Torres, Blanco - Venegas, Ugalde.

Match Officials -
Referee - Fernando Gierrero (MEX)
Asst Ref - Michel Morales (MEX), Andres Hernandez (MEX)
4th Official - Marco Ortiz (MEX)