It will be a strange affair at the Impact this evening. Not only for those 250 fans lucky enough to secure match tickets, but for the thousands of regular match-goers forced to watch a Montreal Impact home game on their TV sets at home.
Thanks to these strange Covid-times, there will be the sight of sparsely populated seats, sanitizing stations, face-coverings en masse and temperature controls to greet everyone entering the stadium.
There will also be the scanning of Yoop passes borne from the process thought up by the Impact front office to distribute tickets for the big game, and whisper it, presenting the opportunity to maximize revenue from the 2020 river that’s run so very dry.
This latest issue is one that’s divided Impact fans. There is a whole wide-ranging spectrum of opinion, going from, “I’ve no problem with the club drawing money from those most wealthy so long as it goes to help the team’s finances,” to “It’s disgusting, we do not do auctions.”
It’s clear that the the more prevalent view leans towards the latter, but almost all fans agree there are better, more just ways to distribute tickets thus ensuring those most-deserving are ‘looked after’, without them having to bid or pay $225 for a ticket.
It’s hard to disagree with this and disappointingly the Impact appear to have scored an own goal on this one. Following hot on the heels of a below-par MLS-is-Back showing and the off-loading of new, young centre-back Luis Binks to Bologna, Impact fans were quick to heap criticism upon the club.
One very well-known supporter, tweeted...
“The downward trend in performance and accumulation of disappointment at certain sporting and business decisions have left relations between IMFC and its most diehard fans at an all-time low.”
The Ultras fan group issued a tweet, “Not for Auction”, leaving all under no illusion regards their feelings.
Others declared they would return their season-tickets and one fan even suggested he would have to, “... sell my right kidney to buy a ticket.”
Some decided on more calculated strategies, opting to wait for the Toronto FC games before bidding big for tickets, sacrificing the opportunity to see their favourites take on the Whitecaps tonight.
I spoke to a couple of fans yesterday. Dany Trudeau will be there for tonight’s game having successfully bid $49 and so will Sebastien Herrera, who admitted to being surprised with success at $60. Sebastien doesn’t feel that the club’s ‘auction’ process was such a ridiculous idea, although he feels there are better ways to organize the ticket situation.
“They could have made 100 available to long-term season-ticket holders, 100 to health-workers recognizing their fantastic efforts throughout the on-going crisis, and perhaps the remaining 50 made available to other fans via a lottery.”
Enough about the controversy... what about the game?
It’s one the Impact simply must win to keep interest alive, not so much in MLS but more particularly for the Canadian Championship of which of course they are defending champions.
Toronto FC have managed to get off to the perfect start with 2 wins over struggling Vancouver. Should Montreal fail to win this evening and follow up by taking less than the three points on offer when TFC visit Stade Saputo on Friday evening, the race for a final spot in the national competition could turn into a meaningless procession.
Vancouver are struggling, but even struggling sides must sometime get a result. They looked very poor in losing 0-3 at BMO Field, and just a little better in the later, scrappier, encounter at the same venue, decided by Richie Laryea’s only goal over the weekend.
But they now have two games under their belt since Florida. Montreal Impact has not played in a full month. Add to that a very even MLS-record between tonight’s teams at Stade Saputo and that wounded Whitecaps are fighting for their lives, it quickly becomes clear this will be a close battle. Montreal Impact’s pair of MLS home victories over Vancouver have been tight and cagey affairs. I expect tonight to be no different.
Thierry Henry claims his side is not yet 100% fitness-wise (how could it be?), but the coach still feels they are 80% there, as opposed to perhaps only 60% in Orlando.
That’s encouraging news of course, but it was not only fitness that curbed progress during MLS-is-Back. Team selection and organization often left something to be desired, so Impact observers will be hoping some clear and obvious flaws have been ironed out on the training ground since the team’s return to Quebec.
The unusual conditions surrounding the resumption of football under the pandemic inevitably affects the players. Stadiums devoid of fans are arenas lacking atmosphere, it dilutes the concept of home advantage. We’ve seen that from results post-lockdown in Europe’s big leagues.
Surprises are expected. It’s not really football as we know it, and then there is the pre-season effect.
Samuel Piette is a player who let’s very little bother him, but even he has commented on the everlasting pre-season feel of this 2020 season. Players rarely look forward to pre-season due to it’s sheer hard work and intensity. MLS teams have had to get up for pre-season not once this season, but three times, really.
“It’s extremely difficult on the body, but also on the mind. Physically, the fact that we’ve been in the pre-season all the time since the start of the calendar makes things difficult. This is usually the phase that players hate the most, because it means the time when training is as intense as possible.
“It’s tough this season, because every time we seem to start playing and get our way, we have to start over.”
Tonight does indeed offer the Impact a fresh start in 2020. They will need to emerge from the blocks quickly on the front foot and be at their best to defeat a Vancouver side with so much to prove.
Projected Line-ups -
IMFC - Diop - Brault-Guillard, Fanni, Binks, Raitala - Piette - Quioto, Wanyama, Taider, Bojan - Urruti
Whitecaps - Hasal - Nerwinski, Rose, Veselinovic, Cornelius, Adnan - Dajome, Owusu, Teibert - Cavallini, Ricketts
Match Officials -
Referee - Drew Fisher
Asst Refs - Philippe Briere, Gianni Facchini
4th Official - Fabrizio Stasolla
VAR - David Gantar