MONTREAL — Montreal Impact forward Orji Okwonkwo is looking forward to his second Major League Soccer season.
The Nigerian youth international agreed to a second loan spell that sends him from Bologna FC to the Impact for the 2020 campaign. Okwonkwo has his eyes set on helping the Impact clinch their first playoff berth since the 2016 season.
“I think the main objective is for us to go to the playoffs, that’s the most important thing,” Okwonkwo said. “We will work very hard, as a player and the coaching staff as well. The playoffs are the most important thing this year, we have to do it.”
Now under head coach Thierry Henry, Okwonkwo dimmed down the excitement of playing for the French goalscoring legend.
“For me, I think that it’s a game and nothing changes,” Okwonkwo said of the difference between Henry and former head coach Remi Garde. “With Thierry Henry here we play attacking football. I think that it will be a great thing and a great formation for me.”
Adapting to MLS
The 22 year-old left Montreal with the 2019 club Most Valuable Player prize in his luggage. In the end-of-season media day, Okwonkwo admitted that he had trouble adapting to MLS.
“It’s been a difficult season, trust me,” Okwonkwo said back in October. “I’ve never experienced something like this in my life, this is the first time. When you travel five hours, three hours to play a game and all that, it’s been very difficult. I cannot adapt to it.”
Okwonkwo believes that his woes from 2019 will help him navigate the MLS schedule better.
“When I came here at first, for two-three months I didn’t get myself, to be honest,” he said. “Because I’m not used to travelling two-three hours and stuff like that. For me, I’m fine with that now. I get to adapt to travelling.”
Striker or winger?
The Impact now have a wide array of options at the winger position. Okwonkwo joins a group made up of Ignacio Piatti, Lassi Lappalainen, Ballou Tabla and new arrival Romell Quioto.
In addition, homegrown players Clement Bayiha and Mathieu Choinere played minutes on the wings last season.
Okwonkwo may find an opportunity at the striker position, where only Maxi Urruti, Bojan Krikic and Anthony Jackson-Hamel are fighting for minutes. Henry believes Okwonkwo’s speed is undeniable and needs to be utilized as best as possible.
“Orji has the speed, which is extraordinary,” Henry said. “It’s true that usually when you make a deep run, it always scares the defenders. Orji has that, we saw that last year on a few plays so he has something that cannot be denied: Speed, which is an important factor up top.”
The Nigerian is heading into preseason with an open mind regarding where Henry might play him.
“To be honest, the technical crew will decide,” Okwonkwo said. “If they decide to play on the side, yes, if they decide to play at the top, okay. Both sides, I’m fine.”