By Eve // @evejulia9
After 3 long weeks off for some much-needed rest and recovery during the Gold Cup, the Montréal Impact were back in action Wednesday night at Stade Saputo. Although the break had allowed several players to recover from injury and return to the lineup, the Impact were still short 2 players on the bench. Visiting Portland Timbers were in a similar situation, as they’d done a full squad rotation and had not even brought a full team.
As Orji Okwonkwo and Bacary Sagna returned following injury absences, there remained several question marks around the Bleu-Blanc-Noir. How rusty would the team be? How would they adjust to a 3-4-3 formation, a departure from the usual 4-3-3? Would the players returning from injury be fit enough to contribute meaningfully?
The Impact wasted no time in affirming their desire to create scoring chances. Having referred to the offensive quality as “sterile” or “non-existent” at several points throughout the season, it was truly a breath of fresh air to watch the team set up camp in the attacking third. Okwonkwo and Sagna were notably effective, combining with a chemistry that made it look as though they had played together for months.
After a littany of near misses, Sagna reacted quickly to intercept a pass, deftly sending Okwonkwo behind the defense in the 28th minute. The Nigerian striker put on the afterburners to find himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, and made no mistake, thumping the ball into the roof of the net.
The Impact started the second half a little lethargically, and were made to pay when the Timbers floated in a free kick that Tomas Cocechny headed home to tie the match at 1-1 in the 53rd minute. Montréal promptly woke up and began to play with the intensity they showed in the first half. They were rewarded with the team’s best goal of the season so far, when Victor Cabrera sought out captain Saphir Taïder. Taïder hooked the pass back to Okwonkwo who, from the top of the box, struck the ball on the volley mid-turn, rocketing it into the top corner to score a screamer of a match-winner.
Although the match was very pleasing to watch from a Montréal perspective, especially given how light the squad remains, this 2-1 result should also be taken with a grain of salt. Portland’s approach with a fully rotated squad signified that they were willing to let this match go. Winning a home match is essential, but there will be far stiffer competition to come, and certainly before many Impact players have returned to the lineup.
In the spirit of the condensed schedule, Montréal are off to Mercedes Benz Stadium, where they’ll take on reigning champions Atlanta United who are missing a few of their own key players, but still a tremendously strong team. Yet if the Impact show up with the same hunger that they demonstrated versus the Timbers, anything is possible!
Featured image: @impactmontreal
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