Montreal Impact head coach Thierry Henry will face a difficult task in his debut.
Henry will not be allowed any type of slow start as his first official game will be a Concacaf Champions League round of 16 tie with Deportivo Saprissa.
The first leg of the two-match series kicks off Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on FS2 in the United States and TSN in Canada.
One of the toughest tasks facing the former Arsenal, Barcelona and New York Red Bulls plays is adapting to the loss of Ignacio Piatti, who transferred to San Lorenzo in Argentina last week.
Results in preseason have not been encouraging. Montreal has lost every preseason game and scored a single goal in the process. The Impact’s curse of not being able to score without Piatti may still have a lingering effect.
However, preseason results do not give the full picture of what this team is capable of. Earlier in February, Samuel Piette said that the team would be more intense under Henry.
“I won’t say that the team will score a thousand goals like he did. But we worked a lot on ball possession,” Piette said. “Very often, people gave our team the counterattack tag. I think we need to improve the possession aspect of our play. We worked a lot on that, we will an intense team from the first to the 90th minute.”
Piette also added that Henry wanted an increased focus on the fullbacks helping the attack. Sporting director Olivier Renard secured the return of right back Zachary Brault-Guillard on a permanent transfer from Lyon. The 21 year-old spent last season on loan in Montreal learning from Bacary Sagna, who he considers like an uncle.
On the left side, Finland international Jukka Raitala is expected to be the starter. A leg injury initially struck fear that he wouldn’t be available for Wednesday’s game. He started in the team’s final preseason game, a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. In the event that Raitala isn’t ready, Jorge Corrales featured at left back in many of the Impact’s preseason fixtures.
Filling Piatti’s absence
The greatest challenge for the Impact’s short-term future is deciding who will start on the left side. For the most part of his five-and-a-half year tenure, the left side of the formation was undeniably Piatti’s.
In terms of scoring, Piatti was the Impact’s No. 1 option. He led the team in goals scored in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 seasons. The only Impact player that scored more than the Argentine in one season was Marco Di Vaio in 2013.
Fortunately for Henry, the Impact have options at the left winger position. The one that Impact fans already know is youngster Lassi Lappalainen, who is back on loan from Bologna. The Finland international stepped in for the injured Piatti on the left last season. Just like Raitala, Lappalainen was also sidelined with injuries in preseason and his presence for Wednesday’s game is still uncertain.
The Impact also acquired Romell Quioto from the Houston Dynamo. The Honduran played most of his games at left wing with Houston.
After sitting out most of last season, Quioto has an opportunity for a fresh start in Montreal. Henry also has the possibility for a Spanish-speaking connection on the left if Corrales needs to step up for Raitala at left back. The connection would even extend to Bojan Krkic, who will be expected to help the team in goal scoring.
Finally, Ballou Tabla — who started his Impact career on the right — featured on the left in Montreal’s last preseason game. The 20 year-old was brought back on a permanent transfer from Barcelona B and has things to prove.
Saba, Maciel not on CCL roster yet
Two of the Impact’s newest players are not yet listed on the team’s Concacaf Champions League roster. The confederation unveiled the roster lists for each of the teams participating in the round of 16 Saturday evening.
Haitian international Steeven Saba and fellow midfielder Emanuel Maciel did not feature on the Impact’s list. As for center back Luis Binks, the Tottenham academy product is still listed as a trialist. However, the Englishman accompanied the team to San Jose, Costa Rica ahead of Wednesday’s match.
According to Concacaf rules, teams have until 44 hours before each match to add players to their roster lists. A maximum of 35 players can feature on teams’ roster list. The Impact currently has 23 players on their list.