MONTREAL – Even on the first day of preseason camp, new Montreal Impact head coach Thierry Henry has his sights set on the Concacaf Champions League. After all, they’re just over a month out from their opening clash on Feb. 19 at Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa.
“It is very important, this city knows it,” Henry said, before referencing Montreal’s trip to the 2014–15 final. “They were close to [winning] it, so it’s very important. It brings people together. The only thing is, as you know, we are going to be playing a team that will be already playing in their league.”
The Costa Rican Clausura began last weekend, and Saprissa will have logged 10 league matches when the two clubs meet at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa. Montreal, meanwhile, don’t begin their 2020 season until Feb. 29 at home against the New England Revolution.
In having the opportunity to compete against the continent's best, Henry acknowledged former head coach Wilmer Cabrera and the 2019 squad that won the Canadian Championship, resulting in a CCL berth.
“First and foremost, you got to say thank you to the guys that were here before us to put us in that situation,” Henry said. “But, obviously, it’s not an easy one to do and prepare for that. But you have to be ready for whatever comes your way.”
As camp begins, Henry’s motto is adapting. The schedule, both in MLS and for the CCL, are out of their control.
“We didn’t start yet, but you have to adapt to the situation, everyone knows how it is,” Henry said. “You have to adapt to it, not look for excuses. We start with the Champions League, it’s very important. If you do well, it can also bring success in the league.”
One of the Impact’s main woes lies on the backline. The club lost Bacary Sagna and Victor Cabrera (trade to Houston Dynamo) during the offseason, and haven’t added any new defensive signings yet. For Henry, the situation is more complicated than simply adding another defender.
“It’s a weird one,” Henry said. “Because when you concede goals people always talk about the defense, when you don’t score people say that it’s the strikers not scoring goals. I see it as a unit.”
Henry noted that on the defensive front, the Impact will look to add for "two to three positions." That was before Cavalry FC center back Joel Waterman was signed Tuesday, and there's also Haitian international midfielder Steeven Saba in preseason camp.
The final group will look to improve upon last year’s 60 goals against, which was the fourth-worst in MLS. An improved collective effort will be needed in a hostile Saprissa environment.
“I don’t know if it’s their style or not because I’ve never been there, but I have maximum respect for Saprissa and what they’ve done in the past for that competition,” Henry said. “After that, you need to embrace that someone is having a go at you. It’s just normal, they’re supporting the team. You should be able to deal with this."