VANCOUVER, B.C. - The Montreal Impact are riding high after a surprising 3-2 win in hostile territory against the Vancouver Whitecaps to kickoff the MLS campaign. Ignacio "Nacho' Piatti and Dominic Oduro led the way, while goalkeeper Evan Bush picked up a win on his 30th birthday. Coach Mauro Biello had his players stick to the game plan and Vancouver shot themselves in the foot with defensive errors. Piatti put on a show to help send Montreal home with all three points.
The schedule only gets tougher for the Impact. After a home match at Olympic Stadium vs New York Red Bulls on Saturday, March 12, Montreal will then travel for weekend contests against FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders FC. The fifth match of the season will see the Impact host MLS Cup runners-up, Columbus Crew at the 'Big O' on Saturday, April 9.
As you can see the task at hand is daunting. Picking up all three points in Vancouver was vital to Montreal's ability to start the 2016 season on the right note. Striker Dominic Oduro isn't at all bothered by the early schedule as he sees this opportunity as a way to show just how the Impact stack up with some of the best club in Major League Soccer.
"It's very good to knock those out of the ballpark. Think about it, when the season starts you don't really know teams formations and it takes teams a little time bit of time to adjust with what they've been learning," added Oduro. "It's always good to play those teams and get it out-of-the-way, because those teams are really tough teams to play. Hopefully they aren't really 100 percent where they are. It could be a blessing in disguise or not and we are hoping it's the former. It's a test for us to show us our abilities and the kind of depth we have on the team."
Evan Bush was fantastic in-goal against the Whitecaps and made several spectacular saves, including a diving outstretched save with his hand on Octavio Rivero with the score 2-1 in the second half. Bush finished with 8 saves and kept Vancouver at bay while the potent Whitecaps attack struggled to convert their chances. The Cleveland Cavaliers supporter is looking forward to getting the grueling matches out-of-the-way early.
"Yeah that's exactly it, very tough opponents and a lot of the games are on the road. I think we play the top three teams in the west on the road in the first five weeks," said Bush. "That's a good measuring stick for us again, but it's also nice to get some of those west coast trips out-of-the-way early in the season so later in the season we're not traveling as much. For us, it's exciting. You want to start with tough games so you kind of get thrown into the fire and we'll see where we are."
Didier Drogba will not be available for the first four of five Montreal matches. The dreaded artificial turf monster has struck and Drogba isn't a fan. He will instead train on his own away from the team. Currently he has joined the Sacramento Republic FC of the USL. When he is on the pitch, last season, Drogba scored 11 goals in 11 games played and four of those were game-winners.
Coach Mauro Biello knows players not named Didier Drogba are going to have to step up. After watching the opening match, Montreal appears to have no problems finding goals with the absence of the former Chelsea FC striker.
"I think obviously with Didier and what he brought last year, the goal-scoring, the leadership, it's obviously something difficult to replace," added Biello. "We have a lot of capable players on this team and players in the past that have shown they can perform. We're expecting that from them in the next couple of games."
Expectations and the end goal is to make the MLS playoffs and eventually hoist the MLS Cup in December. While Montreal might not have sexy household player names like a Toronto FC, New York City FC, or Orlando City SC. They do have talent within and a much deeper roster than a season ago. Scoring, staying healthy, and avoiding a long losing streak will be key to making a return to playoff football in Montreal. Bush is expecting the eastern conference table race to be a dog fight all season long.
"It's MLS, you're going to have to fight and claw to get into the playoffs regardless of the depth, but I think we do have great depth this year," revealed Bush."Typically in years past you could kind of predict who the starting 18 was going to be for traveling days. This year it's a lot different. It's tough to predict that and that's even with some key pieces not in the 18 because of different reasons. We have a very deep squad and we're excited to see how the season plays out."
Not having a rigorous Champions League schedule to deal with at the start of the season will also help Montreal this season. Mauro Biello will have a better grasp on his players and won't be handcuffed by any extra early matches. The Impact can put all the focus on MLS matches before the eventual Amway Canadian Championship tournament in the spring. Defender Wandrille Lefevere remembers how much of a rush it was to make the playoffs after a subpar first half last season.
"Oh we have big goals, we don't hide. We know how we finished the season, we had a big second half of the season and we finished strong with a playoff spot and then we went to the semi-finals of the east. For sure, this year without the Champions League and ability to focus on two competitions later on. We have the expectations that's for sure."
Fast and furious Dominic Oduro will debut a special hairstyle for the home opener on Saturday vs New York Red Bulls. The pizza loving Oduro contributed a goal and an assist against Vancouver. Oduro knows what Montreal fans will be expecting this season and what needs to be done to reach that next level of success.
"We have to be consistent. Obviously the team wants to make the playoffs, that is key and then you go from there. We have to be consistent in what we do and we're trying to do that."
If the Montreal Impact continue to play as they did in Vancouver, it's going to be a fantastic season for football fans in Montreal. Les Canadiens won't be the only supporters chanting Allez Montreal with the exciting Impact looking to prove their worth.