Crunch time arrived in the group stage for Montreal Impact last Tuesday night against DC United. A bit like this evening, it was win or go home, and it prompted a return to a more familiar 4-3-3 formation.
In another ‘must win’ situation tonight it’s difficult to see coach Thierry Henry veering too far away from that most recent successful formula. Players more comfortable with a flat back four grew in confidence throughout the game and kept a clean sheet, the Impact’s first outside of Montreal in an MLS fixture for more than a year.
Luis Binks at yesterday’s video-conference spoke of his familiarity playing in a back four although was careful to point out he still feels the team can defend well as a back three.
“Personally I do prefer four at the back, possibly because that’s how I was brought up playing back home. So back three’s been a change for me and something I am learning each day.
“Not saying I don’t like playing in a back three, because I still think we can defend well [in a back three]. But we definitely did show we can defend well in a back four [v DC United] and the clean-sheet showed that.”
Thierry Henry’s team selections have been nothing if not unpredictable since taking the Impact reins, but given the importance of tonight’s sudden death fixture, he’s likely to stick with the defence and goal-keeper that secured the clean-sheet. But the coach was at pains to point out that the Impact defend as a team and they attack as one, admitting they still haven’t discovered the right balance.
The victory over DC United wasn’t vintage, however the players looked happier and more comfortable in a more conventional 4-3-3, especially Sam Piette, previously out of sorts as Henry tinkered.
The midfield three, to Piette you can add Wanyama and Taider, still lacks cohesion and Henry must be considering changes as he seeks the right mix. For instance, you wonder if Wanyama and Piette can play in the same midfield, or if a more optimal solution exists.
There isn’t enough goals in the side either, something you might overlook if chances were plentiful, but creatively the Impact are found wanting.
Romell Quioto looks like a breath of fresh air, and in his outings so far, with his pace, has looked the most potent threat. Bojan was more involved against DC, but Montreal still needs to work out how best to deploy the former Barcelona man... the same can be said for he of the (less frequently than we’d like to see) bow and arrow, Maxi Urruti.
For Henry it’s all about finding the right balance...
“... because I felt we had great possession against Toronto, we created, stayed in their half, but then didn’t look great defensively. And then against DC United, although they had some opportunities, like we had, we looked a bit more solid defensively and less OK when in possession.
“So you need to find the right balance, which we are still looking for.”
This evening’s opponents, Orlando had a strong, unbeaten showing in the group stages and for that reason enter this evening’s proceedings as justifiable favourites.
An unconvincing 2-1, Nani-inspired success over Inter-Miami provided the platform, for a side who struggled last season, to top Group A. A victory and draw followed against NYCFC and Philadelphia respectively.
They look dangerous when Nani gets involved in the game, and this will be a duel that Zachary Brault-Guillard on Montreal’s right side must get to grips with. The youngster’s concentration levels will need to be higher than what we’ve typically seen; one slip and Nani could be the match winner.
Equally Chris Mueller is in great form for Orlando with four goals in the tournament so far. He’s looked powerful in the Lions’ attack. He and Dwyer (if fit) are sure to prove a handful for Binks, Fanni and company.
The game also brings the Impact face to face once again with Ruan, the Brazilian who effectively ended Ignacio Piatti’s MLS season in 2019. He’s part of a much more solid-looking back four since coach Oscar Pareja came on board.
While Orlando is a side firing on most (if not all) cylinders coming out of the group stages, it’s often a team that displays less spectacular form which finds itself going deepest in tournament play.
Orlando look a reliable favourite going into this one, but reserve some space for a potential upset, although if this is to happen, the Impact may have to rely on kicks from the penalty-mark to seal the deal.
IMFC (probable) - Diop - Brault-Guillard, Fanni, Binks, Corrales - Piette, Wanyama, Taider - Bojan, Urruti, Quioto.
Orlando (probable) - Gallese - Ruan, Antonio Carlos, Jansson, Joao Moutinho - Rosell, Mendez - Pereyra - Mueller, Dwyer, Nani.
Match Officials -
Referee: Marcos de Oliveira
Asst Ref: Nick Uranga, Benjamin Hall-Volpenhein
4th Official: Jair Marrufo
VAR: Allen Chapman