It’s been one year since the Montreal Impact named Thierry Henry head coach and it was mission accomplished in his first season in charge as the club qualified for the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs despite a multitude of challenges from injuries and transfers to pandemic-induced training and travel restrictions that required the team to play away from home in New Jersey.
But in a radio interview with TSN 690 in Montreal, Henry said people on the outside can’t begin to understand the challenges his side faced in 2020 and he wonders what the conversation would have been like had the team not advanced to the postseason.
“I’ll be honest with you, this is by a distance the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with,” Henry said. “A lot of people talking throughout the whole year and they don’t have one single clue what’s happening behind closed doors. People like to judge and talk.
“If we didn’t go into the playoffs, let’s all be honest, everyone would have said: ‘Oh, What is this? What is that? They didn’t perform.’” Henry continued. “Nobody would have looked for ‘We were away. We were this or we were that.’ And it would have been the coach and I understand, I’m the captain of the boat and I would have taken the blame. Because that’s how it is. It doesn’t really matter. But when you look at it carefully and properly it wasn’t an easy one.”
The challenges won’t cease in the postseason. The Impact will face the New England Revolution in a single-elimination Eastern Conference Play-In match Friday (6:30 p.m. ET | TV & streaming info) which they’re preparing to play without the experienced Victor Wanyama, who is away on international duty with Kenya and would have to clear quarantine though Henry indicated the league was working on the issue.
Whatever the final result at Gillette Stadium, Henry emphasized he’s in Montreal to build over the long-term and he pointed to the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew SC as examples of clubs that allowed the time for that building process to take shape.
“I remember I was still playing in 2012 and [the Union] were at the bottom of the league, struggling. Struggling,” Henry said. “They kept at it, they kept the same coach, build a philosophy through their academy. Got the players they needed to get to play the football they wanted to play. And six years or seven years after they’re winning the Shield for the first time. And they might be a team that might win [MLS Cup] … With all those teams that survive at the top, it’s because they had something from before, from previous years.
“That Liverpool team didn’t become Liverpool now that we know in two years. It took [Jurgen] Klopp two-and-a-half to three years to win something. That’s how long it takes and we’re talking about Klopp.”
Henry even referenced his brief spell at Ligue 1 club Monaco, where he was let go after just 20 matches: “What was missing in Monaco was time. Time is important in everything. Patience is important in everything. If you don’t have it, it’s a bit tough.”
A first playoff win for the Impact since 2016 would definitely not hurt the process in Montreal. But to get it on Friday, Henry and his squad will have to overcome a Revolution team that has defeated them on three straight occasions after Montreal’s opening day win over the Revs back on Feb. 29 at Stade Olympique.
“My first-ever win in this league was against New England,” Henry said. “But they managed to beat us three times in a row so we need to find a way to create a surprise because as you can see we go in there being the underdog. But things can happen.
“I have maximum respect for New England,” Henry continued. “The way Bruce Arena has built this team with a lot of MLS experience on the field and on the bench, but we need to find a way to make sure we can beat them and it won’t be easy.”