Well, it’s almost here. The most eagerly anticipated game for Montreal and Toronto fans since the MLS-is-Back draw was made, kicks-off at 8pm local time this evening.
The Impact must not lose. Even a draw at the end of 90 minutes does not spell disaster, although it would mean the last game must be won against DC United.
The Impact must walk tall. A repeat of the performance against New England and they may as well make plans to return to Quebec before tonight’s half-time interval grinds to a halt.
I’m not convinced that Thierry Henry refers only to that last game when he mentions lack of fighting spirit, but I’m prepared to be stood corrected. We’ll see.
The Montreal players must play this evening as though their lives are dependent on the outcome. They must be bold, committed and more offensive than in the last game. Nothing less will do. The coach demands it, but more importantly, the fans demand it. Toronto will be fired up and their commitment must be matched. The Reds will also be determined not to let a lead slip should they get in front, after what happened against DC United.
It’s Thierry Henry’s first flavour of a Montreal-Toronto derby that fans still seek a concrete name for. The most humorous and creative attempt I’ve seen this week is ‘The Cold Firm Derby’, a send-up of Glasgow’s most intense hour and a half.
But it will be anything but cold in Orlando tonight. Henry realizes it could be the most unique and strange of all Montreal-Toronto meetings, yet he knows what it means to participants and fans alike.
“The game could be in your garden or Stade Saputo or another stadium,” he said. “That’s the one you don’t want to lose. So for me, I don’t even have to motivate the players because they already know what time it is. And I’m sure it’s the same for Toronto.
“At the end of the day it is a rivalry.”
You sense Henry doesn’t yet know what his best team or strategy is, tinkering with the line-up as he attempts to find the right formula. Understandable under the circumstances, but he’ll still be acutely aware that result means more than performance tonight. He must figure a way to plunder at least a point.
His predecessor, Remi Garde’s first win arrived against Toronto FC when they were MLS Champions, so why not a mirror-copy for Henry this evening?
It is clear fatigue has kicked in and performance levels drop around the hour mark in most of the games played in Orlando. This must enter into the coach’s strategic thinking, as will Toronto’s short two-day rest period against six for Montreal. At this level there are fine margins and contrasting rest periods are likely to be significant.
I think the French coach will find space in the line-up for both Piette and Wanyama, with the latter playing in a more advanced role. Piette may be detailed to remain on Bradley’s tail throughout the contest. In that first-ever Remi Garde win 2.5 years ago, the same tactic proved beneficial.
A recall to the starting line-up looks certain for Zachary Brault-Guillard, whose pace can help combat the industry of Tsubasa Endoh on Toronto’s left flank. The Montreal youngster will need greater levels of concentration and discipline than what we’ve seen sometimes in the past, but the raw talent and attributes are present in his game.
Wide men Lappalainen and Quioto are likely to be in the coach’s thoughts after Okwonkwo’s unconvincing display in the first game, although the Nigerian was far from alone in that respect. An injection of pace for Montreal could be telling should the game enter the last 20 minutes still deadlocked.
Toronto will be relieved that both starting centre-backs against DC United, Chris Mavinga and Omar Gonzalez are fit and ready to play this evening.
Right-sided defender Justin Morrow remains a doubt (achilles tendonitis) and Jonathan Osorio (quad) and Jozy Altidore appear to be at least another game away from resuming.
Montreal will trust this evening’s referee, Jair Marrufo can get to grips with Michael Bradley’s continuous promptings. Bradley an effective leader, likes to influence and impose throughout a game. The officials are not immune from his leanings.
He’s also allowed frustration to get the better of himself on occasion, not least at the end of Toronto’s previous game after letting a two-goal lead slip.
Perhaps if Samuel Piette can get under the American’s skin, Montreal is in for a profitable evening?