Strong's Notes: Impact of L'Impact
After ending their record four-game losing streak, the Timbers now head back on the road in an attempt to start a winning streak at the Montreal Impact. If last week’s game against Sporting Kansas City was a matchup of contrasting styles and storylines, there will be much more similarity between the two sides at Stade Olympique on Saturday (11am PT, KPDX TV, Timbers Television Network, 750AM The Game / La Pantera 940 AM), and not just because L’Impact are similarly trying to break out of the bottom of their conference.
The Impact’s ascension to MLS make it four of the last five expansion teams that are coming in off the back of years in the second division—more of a promotion than a complete development out of thin air. The Impact had been playing in the USL, or some form of it, since 1993 with three titles and six other semifinal appearances to show for it. They also were always amongst the league leaders in attendance in their Saputo Stadium, which is currently undergoing renovation to MLS standards.
Also like the Timbers, the Impact had all of last year to try out players they could bring with them to the top level, though outside of Sinisa Ubiparipovic’s goal against Toronto the other week, they’ve struggled to make an impact (har!) so far this year. Montreal got four of their last game’s starters from the expansion draft, and have used trades to acquire three others.
But wait, there’s more! Their captain is an experienced MLS player who comes over after a decade with Kansas City, Jack Jewsb—er, I mean Davy Arnaud. Their coach, Jesse Marsch, was a long-time MLS player who’s in his first lead position after a few years as an assistant with the US National Team. But, the similarities don’t end there…
Like the Timbers last year, the Impact have had their schedule front-loaded with road games while their stadium is being completed—though, they’re playing a few games in the old Olympic Stadium, like Saturday’s against Portland. With seven of their first ten games on the road, and with the typical expansion team slow start, they’re already in a bit of a hole in the Eastern Conference, going 0-5-1 away from Quebec.
The biggest frustration for Marsch right now, outside of finding a regular Starting XI amongst injuries and inconsistent form, has been lapses of concentration at key times. The Impact have given back four games in which they’ve had the lead, and their 1-2-2 record when scoring the first goal is second-worst in MLS—to the Timbers, who are 1-2-0 with the opening goal. Also, their four goals conceded in the final 15 minutes of games is also next-to-last in the league; I don’t really want to say who’s bottom in that category too.
One thing where the Timbers beat the Impact from the line in their expansion years? While Portland got a win in their fourth game, before kicking off an almost-record start of five wins from five at home, Montreal had to wait until their sixth game for a win, tying Chivas USA for the slowest start in MLS expansion history.
Expect Another Slugfest
“I think they were probably a lot more aggressive at times, too aggressive at times.” That was John Spencer’s comment after the Timbers and Montreal played to a scoreless draw early in preseason It doesn’t seem as if the Impact have changed too much since then, leading MLS in fouls and yellow cards—though it should also be pointed out they’re amongst the leaders in shots on goal and fouls suffered. Suffice to say their games aren’t boring.
When you add in the unique atmosphere of playing in a domed stadium, and on artificial turf that seems particularly “active”, Saturday’s game may be more like last week’s against Kansas City after all, more about perseverance, hard work, and concentration than flowing, beautiful soccer. Neither team will likely care though: it’s all about three points, all about building momentum early in the season, all about trying to dig out from early holes to make sure neither team is too far away from the playoff places come the later stages of the season.