The knockout rounds of the MLS is Back Tournament are upon us, and Orlando City’s opponent tomorrow night is the Montreal Impact. The two teams played twice last season, with Montreal beating Orlando at Exploria Stadium 3-1 in March, only for the Lions to get their revenge in a 3-0 road win in June.
To prepare for this one I spoke to Paul Vance, managing editor of SBNation’s Mount Royal Soccer. As always, Paul provided an in-depth look at how the Impact are doing this year.
The Impact have played eight games so far under new manager Thierry Henry. What is your overall opinion of Henry as a manager so far and how has he changed the team from what you saw in 2019?
Paul Vance: Thierry Henry — I think, first of all, most everyone is happy to have Henry on board, given his stature within the game, however, the same many people would acknowledge the jury’s out in respect of his coaching credentials/achievements, and frankly his team selections have baffled everyone.
One thing I will say is that he’s not frightened to experiment, although some of his ideas leave long-time Impact observers scratching their heads. But maybe that’s why he’s in the hot seat, and we’re observers.
His record so far isn’t great: two wins, three draws, and three losses, and they’ve just about scraped through into the knockout stage of MLS is Back (what a horrible name for a tournament), in which the Impact have not been particularly impressive.
He has changed the team in how he’s asked them to play, mainly a fluid 5-3-2 cum 3-4-3 formation, which has brought only limited dividends. He reverted to a more conventional 4-3-3 for the critical last group game vs. D.C. and managed to scrape through via Saphir Taider’s deflected shot.
Of course there’s no Ignacio Piatti anymore. The coach has brought in Luis Binks, a solid 18-year-old from Tottenham Hotspur. Binks has gone straight into the side at center back and looks a decent prospect so far.
Another signing from Tottenham, DP Victor Wanyama, has operated in central midfield (and also vs. Toronto FC at center back). He is proving to be a big player for the team, but the cohesion in midfield is not yet apparent. So far Henry has tried to accommodate having Wanyama and Samuel Piette in the same midfield, mainly to the detriment of Piette’s game, and it may be that going forward there is room for only one of the pair in the starting lineup.
Bringing in Romell Quioto has been a breath of fresh air and he’s added pace to the attack. The lack of pace is a feature of the squad, and really only Zachary Brault-Guillard (injured vs. D.C. with a hamstring), Orji Okwonkwo and Lassi Lappalianen could be considered ‘fast.’ Lappalainen has had only limited opportunities so far. Bojan, a former Barcelona teammate of Henry’s, was left on the bench vs. Toronto, suggesting he’s not an automatic choice. Many feel they need to see more from the diminutive No. 9, although he was more involved vs D.C. The Impact still need to work out how to get the best from Bojan.
One of the slightly more surprising and eye-grabbing transfers happened right before the season started, when Montreal signed Victor Wanyama. What have you seen from the former Tottenham player and how important will he be to this team?
PV: Wanyama is solid. He plays mainly in a similar role to Piette, but certainly has more in his locker than the Quebecker. Whether both players are accommodated in Henry’s regular selection remains to be seen, but if only one of them plays it looks certain to be the Kenyan. He had knee problems while at Tottenham — probably why he’s ended up in MLS this early in his career. But he anchors the midfield, is incredibly strong in holding players off, and cool on the ball. He likes to keep it simple, and if the Impact can get his midfield partners right, he will end up dictating the pace of many games. Certainly a very good acquisition, but he cannot do it all by himself, of course.
What are two names that Orlando City fans should know going into this one? Who needs to have strong performances for Montreal to advance to the next round?
PV: The whole team will need to perform well for the Impact to advance in any game at the moment. This hasn’t happened at the tournament thus far. The difference in the third match vs. D.C. which they won, was that they fought really hard throughout. After a slow start they came into the game after 10 mins and dominated the rest of the half — even played some good stuff. Possession and passing were good, but didn’t really create much apart from the deflected goal which won the game.
Second half was a different story. D.C. had a greater share of the possession as you would expect from a team chasing the game, but doggedness and sheer determination saw Montreal home.
If by selecting two players to keep an eye on is what you mean by this question, I would have to say, Quioto, who was excellent against Toronto FC. Pacey and always dangerous — especially on the break — he gave the Toronto back line all kinds of problems before going off with 15 mins to play.
The other player I would mention is Finnish international Lappalainen, although he’s been used only very sparingly in the tournament so far. But if given a chance, he may be one to watch.
But since the predictably unpredictable Henry is unlikely to start with him, maybe the biggest threat will be Taider coming from midfield. His performances haven’t been great, but he tends to make things happen and with three goals (two penalties) and an assist in the tournament so far, his confidence should be high.
Are there any players who will not be available for selection due to injury or suspension? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
PV: I think the Impact squad has a full bill of health. The one major doubt would have been Brault-Guillard, who appeared to ‘do’ his hamstring late on in the game vs. D.C., but just yesterday during his press conference Henry announced he was fit and well, so that’s the right back slot sorted. Rudy Camacho, who probably wouldn’t have started anyway, is back in Montreal, his wife due to give birth.
I mentioned Lappalainen earlier. He’s not carrying an injury, but an injury did hamper his training resumption and therefore he lacks fitness. He appeared in the last six minutes of the opening match, but has not emerged from the bench since. So, he’s unlikely to start but potentially a potent weapon from the bench.
(Note: Projected lineup and score prediction not provided.)
Thanks again to Paul for all of the information on the Impact and vamos Orlando!