A team always wants to end its season, playoffs or not, on a high note, which means a victory. This sends them into the offseason with a positive vibe and maybe even guarded optimism for the following year.
The New England Revolution, entering their final match of a season to nowhere in 2017, were staring at the possibility of an unprecedented event in club annals — a winless road record. Things started well when a first-half Diego Fagundez goal gave the visitors a 1-0 lead, and then all seemed on track for that elusive road win after Krisztian Nemeth’s goal in the 2nd half put the Revs up, 2-1. However, a 90th-minute goal by the hosts knotted the match at 2-2, and a Revs' dubious distinction seemed all but certain.
Earlier in the match, interim gaffer Tom Soehn had trotted out Kelyn Rowe as a late-second half sub, probably just to get him some minutes after a lengthy absence due to injury. Or so we thought. In the final minute of stoppage time, Rowe fired a laser from well outside the 18-yard box and into the back of thue net, giving New England its first and only road win of 2017.
Their opponent that fateful afternoon? The Montreal Impact, also concluding a campaign well below the imaginary red line that separates the haves and the have-nots in MLS. And like the Revs, New England’s northern neighbors began an overhaul in earnest the very next day in an attempt to become relevant again. After all, just prior to the Didier Drogba experiment, the Impact had gone to the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2015, and then made an MLS playoff run the following year, aided in part by the Chelsea legend.
The change started at the top, with Montreal bringing in former French international and recent Aston Villa manager Remi Garde to lead the club. Despite an unsuccessful stint at AVFC — many believe he inherited a sinking ship — the former Arsenal man had received the highest recommendation from Arsene Wenger to help land that gig.
Garde’s first priority was fixing a back line that allowed 58 goals in 2017. After former MLS Defender of the Year Laurent Ciman was traded to LAFC, the Impact added veteran Ligue 1 centerback Rod Fanni, former Crew left back Jukka Raitala, and young Canadian international Michael Petrasso at right back. They joined experienced Argentinian center back Victor Cabrera and Impact 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Daniel Lovitz. The Impact recently acquired French center back Rudy Camacho from Belgium’s top-flight Jupiler Pro League, who could see his first MLS action against New England. Former New York Red Bull Chris Duvall, now in his second year with Montreal, adds depth to both the back line and midfield. Veteran netminder Evan Bush, in his seventh season with the Impact, has two shutouts and 14 saves in four matches.
For three straight years, Montreal’s attack has run through the feet of Argentinian Ignacio “Nacho” Piatti, who’s coming off his second consecutive 17-goal, 6-assist season. The three-time and reigning Impact MVP continues to operate on the left and occasionally up top in Garde’s attack. Seeking additional offensive weapons, the Impact had brought in striker Matteo Mancosu on loan from Serie A side Bologna FC toward the end of the 2016 season. He immediately impressed with a 4-goal, 2-assist postseason that year and was signed to a contract, but the Italian has underwhelmed ever since, and he hasn’t even made the bench the past two matches. Mancosu may no longer be in Montreal’s future plans. In his stead, Chilean international Jeisson Vargas (2 goals) has been moved from the wing to a forward pairing with Piatti, creating an effective goal-scoring tandem. The duo has contributed a combined 3 goals and 3 assists thus far. Providing depth up top is Homegrown forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel, who’s coming off a 9-goal, 2-assist campaign in 2017.
All-time Impact appearance leader and fan favorite Patrice Bernier hung up his cleats after last season. His box-to-box number 8 role has been assumed by Algerian international and World Cup veteran Saphir Taider, also on loan from Serie A side Bologna. Canadian international Samuel Piette has locked down the defensive midfield role after a successful late-season audition following his 2017 transfer from the Spanish third division. Third round 2018 MLS SuperDraft pick Ken Krolicki has anchored the right side of the midfield all season, but he may be supplanted by recent acquisition Alejandro Silva as Garde seeks more balance in the attack. The Uruguayan international from Argentine first division side CA Lanus saw his first MLS minutes versus Seattle and could be in line for a start against New England. With Piatti on the left and Silva on the right, the Impact attack could improve immensely as the season progresses. Toronto FC product and Canadian international Raheem Edwards provides valuable depth on the wing.
Garde has run out a variety of formations this year, either trying to find the ideal structure going forward or simply utilizing an opponent-specific formation for that week. After lining up in a 4-1-4-1, with Mancosu at number 9, for the first two matches of the season (both narrow road losses), Garde unveiled a 5-3-2 for the home opener versus Toronto in week 3, a 1-0 win. In all cases, Piatti was positioned on the left side of the attack. On Saturday night, with the Impact in a 4-4-2 against Seattle, Piatti found himself on the right in Montreal’s 1-0 victory over the 10-man Sounders. It’ll be interesting to see how the Impact line up against the high-pressing Revolution.
Speaking of New England, the Revs won’t have to wait until Week 34 to gain their first road win of the season. Their 2-0 victory over 10-man Houston on Saturday accomplished that feat in Week 4. After withstanding a taste of their own medicine — fifteen minutes of high-pressing by the Dynamo — the Revs broke through on the counter for a 1-0 lead. The 4-on-1 basketball-type fast break goal showcased New England’s overall team speed, with Teal Bunbury, Cristian Penilla, and newcomer Luis Caicedo leaving Houston defenders in their respective vapor trails. An excellent individual effort by Penilla in the second half closed the scoring on the Revs’ second win of the season.
Manager Brad Friedel used a 4-1-4-1 for the second straight match, but he opted to pick and choose when to high-press the Dynamo. Of course, after the 35th minute red card to DaMarcus Beasley put Houston a man down, all bets were off, and it simply became a possession game (at least in theory). Caicedo made a surprise start over Kelyn Rowe (a second-half sub) on the wing, and Jalil Anibaba kept his right center back spot over long-time starter Antonio Delamea. Bunbury also earned another start despite a rather unproductive season through four weeks, and he rewarded Friedel’s faith with aggressive defending and his first goal of 2018. Juan Agudelo eventually spelled him after halftime. Once again, no one named Lee Nguyen was on the bench or the pitch. As long as results are being posted, he may become an afterthought.
This match is the first of three meetings in 2018 between the Eastern Conference rivals. All-time, New England and Montreal are tied at 7-7-2, including 3-3-1 at Gillette Stadium. The Revolution are unbeaten overall in their last 10 matches at home (8-0-2).
How to Watch
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, April 6
Venue: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass
TV: myTV38 (Boston), TSN1 / TSN4 / TVAS (Montreal)
Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub (Boston), News Talk Radio CJAD 800 (Montreal)
Streaming: MLS Live