After the thunderous Major League Soccer playoffs run of the Montreal Impact in 2016, expectations were high among fans. Sadly, Biello’s men were slow out of the gate to start 2017. However, signs of improvement are preventing the alarm bells to sound. Here is a round-up of the situation in Montreal.
How’s it been going?
Week 1 : San Jose Earthquakes-IMFC, 1-0 loss
It wasn’t exactly a disastrous start, but it easily could have been. The Impact was suffocated by the Quakes’ high press and never seemed to find a way to easily get the ball out of the back line and into the feet of their attacking players. San Jose could have scored a few more goals and, frankly, Montreal could still be looking for a goal (and even for a shot on target) as we speak if that final whistle hadn’t been blown. It was one of those days.
Week 2 : IMFC-Seattle Sounders, 2-2 draw
Seattle clearly had stolen a page out of San Jose’s book and pressed high. Again, Montreal had all sorts of problems connecting until… Seattle stopped pressing. With more room to manoeuvre, Bernier, Piatti and Co started feeling better and eventually took a two-goal lead after 51 minutes. The Impact seemed well on its way to secure all three points, but out of the blue, everything fell apart. With roughly ten minutes to play, Ciman fouled Oniel Fisher in the box, awarding Seattle a lifeline. Minutes later, a goal by Clint Dempsey was called back for a non-existent handball against Jordan Morris. The Impact seemed to have dodged a bullet, but terrible defending in the last few seconds of added time allowed Will Bruin to equalize.
Week 3 : New York City FC-IMFC, 1-1 draw
After a draw that felt like a loss, the Impact improved by getting a draw that felt like a win. With NYCFC pounding DC United 4-0 the week before and Montreal’s recurrent defensive woes, visiting Yankees Stadium and its tiny pitch was not much of an enticing project for Biello’s crew, to say the least. However, a stellar Patrice Bernier (who was substituted way too early in the previous loss draw against Seattle) led the Impact to a well deserved win draw. After falling behind just before half-time to a Rodney Wallace goal, Montreal did not lose its composure and eventually found a way to crawl back and snatch away a hard-earned point when Bernier found Oduro behind the defence with a glorious, luminous and downright magic ball that was quickly converted in cold hard cash by the Ghanaian.
Not much is going on in the world of the Impact right now. The only topic of concern is Marco Donadel’s knee problem. Donadel was pulled out of the starting XI just a few minutes before kickoff in New York after feeling some pain during warm-up. He was left out of the squad to prevent an injury. Donadel has no clear substitute (Callum Mallace jumped in last Saturday, much to the surprise of many), so should his situation get worse down the line, this will be an interesting topic to follow. Louis Béland-Goyette would be the natural sub for Donadel, but the young academy product has been left out of the 18 since San Jose. Hernan Bernardello or Adrian Arregui could also fill in for the Italian.
Also, the wait for Bleirim Dzemaili could turn into a typical Montreal Impact soap opera after the Swiss midfielder refused to comment on his future in a recent interview. Joey Saputo had officially announced during the Impact’s post-mortem of the 2016 season that Dzemaili would join the Impact this summer. Dzemaili responded by piling up goals for Serie A side (and Joey Saputo’s other team) FC Bologna. Saputo is now under pressure in Bologna.
What’s to come?
The Impact is off this weekend, but will continue its start-of-the-season North American road trip by visiting Chicago (and new MLS resident Bastian Schweinsteiger) on April 1 and Los Angeles on April 8, before coming back home to Stade Saputo on April 15 to face expansion sensation Atlanta United FC. Three tough games for the Bleu-Blanc-Noir, but the first game of the year at Saputo always adds a little incentive to do well, which might make up for the fact that Atlanta doesn’t seem to be, at first glance, a really good match for the Impact’s style of play.