MONTREAL — Few would have predicted Thierry Henry to suffer his first setback as Montreal Impact head coach in this fashion.
This was a shocker: Two first-half goals clinched a 2-1 upset road win for Honduran side CD Olimpia, giving them the early advantage in their Concacaf Champions League home-and-home quarterfinal series against the Impact.
Here are three key takeaways from the postgame locker room reactions from Henry & Co.:
Henry wasn’t happy with his side’s performance in the first half, pointing out how his team needed to play 90 minutes and not just 45. The Impact conceded twice on Olimpia counterattacks with former New England Revolution player Jerry Bengston and Jorge Benguche notching the pair of crucial away goals.
“I call them schoolboy errors,” Henry said. “The first goal is a schoolboy error, the second goal is a schoolboy error. You get countered on a corner kick, and on the other we knew that they would play long. You cannot have two players jump on the same ball. One jumps, the other runs.”
Ultimately, Henry was disappointed by his team conceding early against a team that did not come to Montreal to attack.
“It’s not possible to win a game when we find ourselves in this kind of situation against a team that was here to defend,” Henry said.
"It’s only been five games that we’ve played together, it’s not easy,” Henry added. “I think that you’ve seen some [positive] plays tonight and you’ve seen plays against New England. So we need to continue, to move forward and play more like that for longer.”
Henry liked what he saw from his team in the second half as they created enough scoring opportunities, only to fall short of an equalizer. However, the Frenchman stresses his team’s biggest flaw at the moment is the inability to play a full 90 minutes.
“We’re trying to learn, we’re trying to progress and now we’ll have to do [the second half performance] for two halves now [in the second leg in Honduras],” Henry said.
Hand ball controversy
Late in the second half, the Impact had a penalty appeal turned away by referee Adonai Escobedo, who originally pointed to the spot only to reverse his decision and give a corner kick after consultation with his assistant.
Olimpia's Maylor Nunez looked to commit a hand ball offense on a headed effort by Montreal's Anthony Jackson-Hamel:
Asked about the event, Henry said: “I’m not talking about the referee.”
“Of course it’s frustrating, but it goes by so fast," Saphir Taider said. "We don’t really have time to think about it during the game. We have to try to refocus one moment later to try and score the second goal. They are refereeing decisions that we need to respect. It’s part of football.”
Henry's halftime changes
Orji Okwonkwo gave the Impact a boost when he came on in the 2nd half | USA Today Sports Images
For the first time this season, Henry tweaked his three center back formation at halftime to add an attacker in Orji Okwonkwo. The Nigerian came on for right wingback Zachary Brault-Guillard and the team felt the instant impact in attack.
Two minutes after the break, Okwonkwo assisted Taider’s laser from 30 yards out to pull the Impact back a goal. Henry praised his young winger, but added there was a process with him that dated back to his injury in preseason.
“Orji is in a situation where he didn’t work a lot in preseason because he got some problems with his thigh, but it was difficult for him to start a game,” Henry said. “That’s why we’re slowly trying to get him into a rhythm. When he came on we all knew what he could do and he tried to do that.”
Henry told his team, specifically Taider, to take their chances and shoot. When Taider converted mere minutes into the half, the Algerian turned his head towards Henry to celebrate.
“I didn’t understand why the guys didn’t shoot [in the first half],” Henry said. “Their team tracked back, at some point if you want them to move out a bit you need to shoot and what a goal he scored. We were a little more brave on the ball and tried to shoot or we found ourselves in situations where we crossed early so it was more difficult for the opponent.”
Henry’s mantra in preparation for the return leg will be to mirror his team’s second-half performance.
“When you shoot, even if you don’t score, you can shake up the [opposing] team. You can find flaws and find guys on 1-on-1s like we did,” Henry said. “Now we’ll be over there, it’ll be different, but it’s up to us to go there and to qualify. It won’t be easy, but we’ll try to do it.”