It’s the end of another week, which means it’s time to start gearing up for this weekend’s Orlando City game. This week sees Orlando travel to Montreal for a rematch with the Impact, which will hopefully go better than the first time the two teams met. It’ll be the men in purple’s last MLS game until June 26, so it’s crucial to get a win and go into the break on a high note.
In order to see how the Impact have been doing since the teams last met, I spoke with Paul Vance, the managing editor of SBNation’s Mount Royal Soccer, and he was kind enough to bring all of us up to speed on how Montreal is faring.
It’s safe to say that fortune has been a little kinder to Montreal since the two teams last met with the Impact nine points ahead of the Lions in third place. What’s been going right for Montreal since mid-March?
Paul Vance: The Impact’s form has not been great, although with Ignacio Piatti out since being injured in delivering a two-goal salvo at Orlando, one could argue they’ve punched above their weight. It’s worth noting also they’ve had only four home games from 15 fixtures so far this season.
The most notable result was the 2-1 success at Red Bull Arena, secured after going behind. It was the first time Montreal had avoided regular season defeat at the venue — the previous nine encounters all resulting in home wins.
Scoring goals has been a problem. A whole other dimension is missing when Piatti doesn’t play. Striker Maxi Urruti, who arrived from FC Dallas in January, has scored only once from the penalty spot, but the service he’s had has been, at best, poor.
In four home games, IMFC has managed only two goals and hasn’t scored in the last two. New England, the last visitors, came to Stade Saputo having conceded 18 goals in their previous four games, but apart from a 20-minute spell at the end of the first half, comfortably blanked the Impact.
Defensively, Montreal has been pretty sound, Evan Bush has claimed six clean sheets, but goals against have tended to come in clumps. Seven against Sporting KC, three against Philly, and four at LAFC most recently.
But note also that the Impact have not lost consecutive matches this season. A bad result has nearly always been followed by a good one.
It has been the defensive displays that have kept Montreal as high up the table as they are currently. And with three home games on the trot coming up, they expect to kick on and consolidate a top four spot. However should Piatti’s injury flare up again, optimism will significantly reduce.
À LIRE | Nouvelle blessure au genou pour Nacho Piatti qui le tiendra à l’écart du jeu pour une période d’environ 8 à 12 semaines— Impact de Montréal (@impactmontreal) May 30, 2019
DÉTAILS >> https://t.co/XTH1Cay0yN
READ | Nacho Piatti suffers new knee injury, set to miss 2 to 3 months
DETAILS >> https://t.co/ayynMfvFm7#IMFC pic.twitter.com/dosQRDuTxx
While Montreal is sitting reasonably comfortably above the playoff line, the team has struggled at times to score goals. The Impact have 19 on the year, which ranks in the lower half of the league. What do you believe is the source of those difficulties?
PV: Simply missing Piatti. But also Rémi Garde has had to configure his troops in such a way to gain points. His squad could do with strengthening, particularly up front, and there’s a lack of creativity. So, disappointingly there’s been plenty of functional soccer played in 2019.
It’s been effective, but the balance in the side is not right. They are lightweight up front without Piatti, and their most creative midfielder, Saphir Taider, has played in games where he’s been less than 100% fit.
It’s not that IMFC has not been putting chances away. They’ve simply not been creating them, or at least precious few.
We spoke a little about Orji Okwonkwo before last match, and he scored his first MLS goal in the subsequent win over the Lions. How has he fared since then?
PV: He’s done OK, usually playing wide right, but also has been used on the left. He has yet to play a full game. I think he’s had 10 starts now, and been substituted in every one.
As well as his goal at Orlando, he scored recently at Cincinnati and played well in the 3-0 victory at New England, when he was unlucky not to score.
He’s a strong running forward who hasn’t quite yet found his best form, you feel. He interchanged well with Shamit Shome and Zachary Brault-Guillard down the right vs. New England at home, before the opposition tweaked things to make the trio much less effective after halftime.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
PV: It’s been reported this week that Piatti has suffered a reaction to his knee injury after last Friday night’s game in LA. His omission, if it comes to that, would be good news for Orlando, his favorite opposition. With 10 goals, he’s scored more times against the Lions than any other MLS team.
New Panamanian signing Omar Browne (pronounced Brown-ee), was out last week due to a groin issue, so I’m unsure if he’ll take part on Saturday.
Samuel Piette will be back, after serving a one-game suspension — the first MLS game in the last 52 he’s missed.
Evan Bush; Bacary Sagna, Jukka Raitala, Zakaria Diallo, Daniel Lovitz; Samuel Piette, Shamit Shome, Saphir Taider; Orji Okwonkwo, Maxi Urruti, Ignacio Piatti [Note: lineup submitted before the severity of Piatti’s injury was known].
Score Prediction: If Piatti plays, 2-1 Impact. If not, 1-1. It will be tight, I’m pretty sure about that.
Big thanks to Paul for the updates and insight on Montreal.