Qui sont-ils? Aperçu du Match Contre Montreal
This past Thursday the Chicago Fire drew 0-0 against the Philadelphia Union to complete their second phase of preseason in Tampa Bay. The match was a drab as the score line suggests with both the Fire and the Union showing signs of fatigue in the Florida sun. Philadelphia had the majority of the match’s attacking opportunities but Chicago coped well with the threats despite critiques of a makeshift backline. Head coach Veljko Paunovic touted the friendly as a good performance against one of the league’s “best” sides and applauded the fitness levels achieved by his charges during their time in Tampa. After a brief weekend off in Chiberia the team has returned to Florida, this time to Bradenton, to complete their final phase of preparations for the MLS campaign. As part of their stay they will face the Montreal Impact this Wednesday (6:00 pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com).
While the Fire’s technical staff may be angling this match as another tune up, Montreal will offer a stark contrast in terms of offseason preparation. A massive overhaul has seen changes take place throughout their club’s structure as acquisitions and trialists have arrived en masse for the Quebecois side and their new coaching team. There seems to be a genuine sense of competition within the Impact ranks as the caliber of trialists and newcomers gives off a vibe beyond that of bringing warm bodies in for scrimmages. Montreal’s ninth place finish did not sit well with Joey Saputo and the club will be looking to prove themselves in all of their encounters, friendly or otherwise. Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Montreal Preseason Form Guide: W
Previous Result: A 2-0 win over the Las Vegas Lights.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Bush; Petrasso, Diallo, Cabrera, Lovitz; Taïder, Krolicki; Jeisson, Vargas, Piatti; Mancosu
Forces: It is rarely difficult to come up with positive aspects of one of MLS’ chic-est clubs and this year is no different. While the purchases may not always pan out, Saputo certainly isn’t afraid to splash cash in the market nor does he spare any expense when it comes to facilities, travel, and accommodations for his team. With Montreal starting off their 2018 campaign playing against four of last year’s top six sides, they’ll certainly need to ensure that they hit the ground running. Let’s see where they might succeed on Wednesday.
Bienvenue Rémi Garde: Perhaps the most impressive offseason acquisition was the Impact’s ability to secure the services of the ambitious Frenchmen looking to prove himself in the coaching world after a failed stint with Aston Villa which ended with the Birmingham club being relegated in 2016. Prior to that stint, Garde was the head coach of Olympique Lyon, the club whose academy he joined as a youngster before breaking into the first team and moving on to Arsenal. Garde won the Coup de France with Lyon in 2014 and also won back to back titles as the assistant coach of Les Gones in 2004 and 2005. A defensive midfielder by trade, Garde’s approach to the game is one of solidity in the back and technical ability on the ball. With Montreal conceding their fair share of goals last season, fifty-eight to be exact (second most in the East), and also known for being lax on the ball and collapsing late in matches, Garde is the perfect candidate for the job.
Additionally, Saputo secured the services of Joel Bats as goal keeping coach. Perhaps one of the most legendary members of the coaching staff at Lyon, Bats left the Bad Gones in tears as they said farewell to the club staple after Ligue 1’s winter break. A salute of flares from fans and players alike lit his way off the field for the last time in February as he looked back on seventeen years of service and seventeen trophies earned. Bats trained the likes of Gregory Coupet and Hugo Lloris at Lyon, perhaps the best ever Frenchmen to play the position. It goes without saying that Evan Bush will be an even more reliable stalwart this season and Montreal may reap the benefits of not skimping on their technical staff.
Oh là là quelle forme physique: Directly tied to their change in staff is Montreal’s heightened level of fitness. A clear problem based on their entry physicals, Garde quickly remedied the situation through two-a-day training sessions, distance running for the players, and the stricter implementation of team guidelines for the players. Known for his no nonsense approach and policy of rewarding players for training methods and form rather than the name on their shirt, the match against Las Vegas highlighted that there has been a shift in mentality and preparedness for the Impact.
Part of the fix has also come through making the side much younger. This offseason, Patrice Bernier and Andres Romero retired, Laurent Ciman headed to LAFC, and Bernardello went home to Argentina, while Hassoun Camara’s contract was not renewed. Replacements for those veterans came in the form of Michael Petrasso (a twenty-two-year-old who last played for QPR), Saphir Taider (a twenty-five-year-old Algerian international with World Cup experience), Chilean U-20 midfielder Jeisson Vargas, and former TFC speedster Rahim Edwards. Chicago struggled against Philly in terms of their fitness, something they won’t get away with against this Impact side.
Remplir les trous: The second immediate need that was alluded to above, defensive frailty has also begun to be addressed in the transfer market. Ciman’s departure for LAFC was facilitated by a trade which included not only Edwards, but former Columbus Crew left back Jukka Raitala (two of LAFC’s expansion draft picks). Raitala was seemingly left unprotected because his “stay at home” style of defending did not compliment a Crew system which pushes its outside backs up the field. However, this mentality while likely suit a more conservative Impact back line under Garde (exacerbated by the departure of Ambrose Oyongo). Additionally, Garde secured the services of French center back Zakaria Diallo who spent time in Ligue 1 with Dijon before dropping down to Ligue 2 with Ajaccio and Brest. Diallo will be seen as a slightly younger, more mobile version of Ciman with a far less significant cap hit. Garde will not accept defensive lapses and that will start with Wednesday’s match.
Oubliez la Poutine, j'Aurai des Nachos: Although it is still the preseason, our previews of Montreal always include a shout out to one of the original Argentine MLS Enganches, Ignacio Piatto. You didn’t think we’d pass up the opportunity, did you? The former Gimnasia, Independiente, and San Lorenzo puppeteer signed a two-year contract extension after Saputo offered him the pay raise that he deserved amidst rumors of a possible return to Argentina.
Faiblesses: With the Impact having played just one preseason fixture, it will be hard to expand upon weaknesses in a meaningful manner. However, we’ll give it our best shot.
Identité: The most obvious question mark is one of team identity. With so many veterans departing, and a semi-iconic coach being booted from the locker room there is not yet a sense of cohesion within the side on or off the field. This will be remedied with time but it could cost the Impact on Wednesday. This will be especially interesting in terms of creativity. They may have signed some speedy wingers to compliment Piatti, but balance between being on the front foot and approaching matches conservatively may take time. There will certainly be gaps for Chicago to exploit.
Prediction: As with previous preseason friendlies we will not attempt to provide our readers with a score line, but it will become more and more evident that Chicago has a lot to do before the roster freeze date. They failed to exhibit any creative capabilities in the final third against Philly, and as the opposition gets sharper, their defensive frailties will become more and more exposed. As a side note, Aleksandar Katai’s work visa has not cleared yet and he will not be available for Wednesday’s match while we have also been told that Bastian Schweinsteiger’s “scheduled absence” against the Union was indeed the result of a shin injury sustained in training. Supporters might begin to worry if the German misses a third consecutive preseason match.