Montreal Impact head coach Thierry Henry was the first to acknowledge his team had a rough preseason.
Heading into their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 tie with Deportivo Saprissa, the Impact had only won one preseason match. Montreal had lost four straight games and, without departed star Ignacio Piatti, scored only one goal in the process.
For Henry, leaving Costa Rica with a 2-2 draw in the opening leg Wednesday night was a proud moment.
“As you know, we had a hard preseason,” Henry said in his post-match press conference. “We lost some guys at the beginning of the game, unfortunately. We had to adjust to that and we did, but also in the second half they adjusted to what we gave them.”
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Henry’s hand was forced on all three substitutions due to injuries to Rudy Camacho and Orji Okwonkwo, who needed to leave the pitch in the first half while Romell Quioto subbed off in the second half. Nevertheless, Henry was impressed by his players’ willingness to fight.
“We tried to compete, it was always going to be a difficult second half, but overall, I cannot say anything to my team,” Henry said. “Obviously there are some things that we need to work on, on how we conceded the goals, but you could see how it was difficult at times to cover each other.”
“But at the end of the day, as a coach, when you see your team fighting like that up until the end you can only be proud. Obviously there’s some stuff that we can work on, don’t get it twisted, but I have to be proud about how they played. Especially how we arrived there in the situation that we are in.”
Henry was proud of his team for keeping a draw, but credited Saprissa for their commitment in the second half. Goals from former Impact and Minnesota United player Johan Venegas and Ariel Rodriguez brought the final score to a 2-2 draw. The Frenchman believed the Costa Rican club earned their comeback.
“I’m not trying to find any excuses about the preseason and all of this, they deserved to score in the second half,” Henry said. “You have to give them their credit. We could have had some more saves from Clement Diop, but it didn’t happen. You have to be respectful of the team you’re playing against and they played really well in the second half, like we played really well in the first half.”
The Impact remain confident in their chances to advance to the quarterfinals to meet either the Seattle Sounders or C.D. Olimpia. However, Henry will not allow his team to overlook next Wednesday’s return leg at Olympic Stadium.
“Nothing is done. We still have to play a game at home and see what we can do, but [Saprissa] is a hell of a team,” he said. “The way they were passing the ball and making us run in the second half with the quality that they have in midfield and the way they were putting the ball inside, it became very difficult.”