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Unbalanced MLS Schedule Tough On Impact

Travel-weary Montreal had toughest assignment of all over last two weeks.

SOCCER: SEP 23 MLS - Montreal Impact at New England Revolution
Emanuel Maciel takes on Revs’ Kelyn Rowe. Montreal looked leggy and tired in their last outing against New England.

Montreal Impact is not a happy club to be around right now. Poor results, games thrown away, Canadian title cheaply relinquished in error-ridden fashion, and a travelling troupe that’s not been home in almost two weeks.

And that’s not even to consider a mounting injury list and ten more games to come, all away from home base.

The team looked tired and weary in its last match against New England Revolution on Wednesday, a 1-3 defeat in which the Revs weren’t even required to get out of second gear.

A few short weeks ago optimism was on the rise and Montreal fans we beginning to believe in the progress being made under new coach, Thierry Henry. Three red cards later combined with a punishing MLS game schedule, there’s the feeling of being back to square one.

It’s great that we’re playing football at all in these Covid times, so without wanting to level criticism in any particular direction, it’s still virtually impossible to remain reasonable of mind and claim that Montreal’s recent schedule was not particularly brutal. And even if someone should argue the point, they’d still have to face facts and at least admit the Impact’s schedule since 9 September has been the most gruelling of all MLS clubs.

Five games in fifteen days, it will become six in nineteen on Sunday, by which time they will have endured hotel life for two full weeks. It’s a far more concentrated schedule than any club had at MLS-is-Back for instance, when at least everyone was at the same locality. Over the last fifteen days, Montreal has played in four different cities on both coasts.

Even though you sense his reluctance to go there, perhaps it’s not surprising Thierry Henry chooses to make reference to the schedule, since the latest round of games began. Not one for hiding behind excuses, the Impact coach has felt the need to share some thoughts in recent days.

“The schedule that we have being away from home is not an easy one.”

While speaking about rectifying some gaps on defending set-pieces after the Revs game, he also referred to a lengthening injury list, stating, [We have to] see who is going to be available against the Red Bulls and see who’s going to obviously not drop before that, because we lost Saphir yesterday after training. He didn’t recover from something in the previous game.”

Montreal Impact v Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Saphir Taider (left) joined the casualty list a day before the game against New England.
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Henry was stumped trying to find explanations for the flat showing in Foxboro stating his team... “refused to play how we wanted to.” The absences of Quioto and Taider would have been a good start but he chose not to make those a reference point.

But he hoped the New England game was a one-off, felt his team looked physically and mentally tired and lamented how goals were cheaply given up, significantly saying, “... it’s starting to take a toll on the players. I’ll be honest with you.”

And there was much frustration for the Frenchman around overall scheduling and logistics.
“We have a game so we’re going to have to play.

“If we go back to Montreal we’re going to have to quarantine, which is not ideal. And then come back and play six games in I don’t know how many days again, [all] being away from home.

“You know as much as it is to being mentally healthy and well, to play a football game and go back and see your family and your own habitat, is way better than when you’re not. So, it is what it is. The other Canadian teams have to deal with it too.”

Henry’s observations and frustrations have foundation. Yes he does have to find a way to win with his weary and injury-hit squad, since the buck still stops at his door, but circumstances around the current run of games do add complexity for the Canadian clubs.

Orji Okwonkwo who left the action early on Wednesday evening clutching what looked like a sore hamstring is added to an injured-list that includes Saphir Taider, Steeven Saba, Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Ballou Tabla. Bojan admitted Wednesday he didn’t yet feel 100% and Urruti was risked off the bench despite not yet being back to full fitness.

SOCCER: SEP 23 MLS - Montreal Impact at New England Revolution
Orji Okwonkwo, who left the action early with an injury on Wednesday, takes on Revs’ Henry Kessel.

There may be doubts also around Rod Fanni. It has to be assumed if fully fit, the veteran centre-back would have seen some action in the last couple of games, yet he remained on the bench.

The issues around travel and fatigue remain very real also. Since 9 September only two clubs, Montreal Impact and San Jose Earthquakes have played 5 times. Most clubs have played three, and two sides, LA Galaxy and NYCFC, only twice.

For Wednesday’s opponents New England Revolution, the Impact’s visit was only their third outing over the same timespan.

The listing across the league looks thus (comparison between home and away games is displayed in brackets) -

5 - Montreal Impact (1-4), San Jose Earthquakes (2-3)

4 - Atlanta United (2-2), Colorado (1-3), Houston (1-3), LAFC (2-2), Inter Miami (2-2), Minnesota (1-3), Portland (1-3), Real Salt Lake (4-0), Vancouver (2-2)

3 - Chicago (2-1), Cincinnati (1-2), Columbus Crew (2-1), FC Dallas (2-1), DC United (2-1), Nashville SC (2-1), New England (2-1), New York red Bulls (1-2), Orlando City (1-2), Philadelphia Union (1-2), Seattle Sounders (2-1), Sporting Kansas (3-0), Toronto FC (0-3)

2 - LA Galaxy (1-1), NYCFC (1-1)

The Impact has another ten games to play away from base to complete regular season football. Since seven will take place at Red Bull Arena, it’s hoped some home comfort can be speedily found at the New Jersey venue.

Failing this, yet another season without play-off football awaits. Given that an unprecedented ten teams from the East will make post-season football in 2020, missing out will for some be even harder to take than normal.

Although even managing to complete all of a club’s fixtures in this wretched and abnormal year may even be considered success in itself.