Orlando did very well to get back to winning ways in what was ultimately convincing fashion against Atlanta United on Wednesday. Now, the club will try to put together another run of good results to close out the season, and the first barrier to doing so presents itself in the form of the Montreal Impact.
As usual before the Lions’ games with Montreal, I spoke to Paul Vance, managing editor of SBNation’s Mount Royal Soccer. As always, he gave us some great insight into how things have been going for Montreal since the two teams last met.
When we last spoke, Thierry Henry was just settling in to his new gig as the Impact’s head coach, which made it a bit tricky to properly evaluate him. Now that you’ve had some more time to assess him, what do you think?
Paul Vance: Thierry Henry has struggled with a squad probably not yet good enough for playoff football. Add to that the year we’ve just had with COVID-19, when Canadian clubs have had to domicile themselves in the U.S. for 2.5 weeks at a time, and (for the Impact) play home games at Red Bull Arena.
Upon returning to Canada they have not even been able to train, due to the need to stay in ‘the bubble.’
The injury list has been lengthy too, so it’s been the perfect storm.
It’s a little hard to judge Henry, who’s been frustrated for much of the season, mainly due to the reasons outlined and by his side giving away really poor goals at times, through what could be described only as individual howlers.
Next season will be the test for him and new Sporting Director Olivier Renard, who’s already been influential. Recruitment, with the additions of Romell Quioto, Luis Binks, and Victor Wanyama to name three, has been positive.
Henry has helped the side forge an identity of playing out from the back and being bolder and braver in possession. Neither the results nor the ultimate style he wishes to see the team play are there yet, but he has improved the football being played and helped others to further develop their game — most notably Sam Piette, who plays in a more advanced role than previously.
If the squad is strengthened over the close season as expected, 2021 will be a better time to judge Thierry Henry. I think, all things considered, he’s had a decent year.
There are a couple players who I’d like to know a little bit more about — Bojan and Lassi Lappalainen. What roles do they play for this team?
PV: Lassi Lappalainen will not be playing any role against OCSC. He’s recovering from recent shoulder surgery after an injury sustained in the victory at Columbus. But generally he’s a right-footed front man who plays wide on the left. Most of his goals have been from cutting in from the left wing and finishing with his right foot. Most of the frustration watching him concerns his inability to cross with his left, always having to check back in promising situations to transfer the ball to his better, right foot. He’s quick though, and young (21).
Bojan has possibly benefitted from the absence of Saphir Taider, now transferred to Al-Ain in Saudi Arabia, and has hit top form operating in the area of the field formerly occupied by the Algerian. That would be in a forward role, left of center. He’s technically among the very best players in MLS and likely to deliver if provided the service.
Great pedigree, brought up in the Barcelona way, and indeed won two European Champions Leagues with the Catalans, although he didn’t emerge from his place on the bench in either final (2009 & 2011).
Montreal is currently in ninth place in the East, and as long as the Impact can take care of business down the stretch, the Impact will be in the playoffs. What do you think this team is capable of in the postseason?
PV: Post-season capabilities — you just never know. If the squad gets a full bill of health it’s certainly capable of beating the best as Toronto and Columbus have found out in their own respective backyards, this season.
But they are equally adept at losing games they should win. Inconsistency is the call. They’ve not won back-to-back MLS games since June 2019, so most often a good result is followed by a flat one. So should they make it to the playoffs and win their first game, a follow-up win is probably unlikely. But you never know. Playoff football is often so predictable.
Can they win MLS Cup? I’d be amazed if they were to reach even the Eastern Conference final, let’s put it that way.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
PV: Injuries? Rod Fanni (hamstring), Lappalainen (shoulder, season over), Mathieu Choiniere (long-term, season over). Steeven Saba, a Haitian semifinalist at the last Gold Cup has not yet played for the club, picking up an injury in training shortly after signing, but signs are that he’s almost healthy so he could feature against OCSC, as might Orji Okwonkwo, who we expected to see on the bench at Yankee Stadium, but suffered a late withdrawal after initially being named.
Starting lineup: GK - Clement Diop; DEF - Zachary Brault-Guillard, Luis Binks, Joel Waterman, Jukka Raitala (captain); MF - Samuel Piette, Victor Wanyama, Amar Sejdic, Romell Quioto; FOR - Bojan, Mason Toye.
Score prediction: 3-1 Orlando.
Big thank you as always to Paul for bringing us up to speed on the Impact.