Thierry Henry - Montreal Impact - sideline view
Courtesy of Montreal Impact

Montreal Impact counting on tactics to bridge fitness gap in Concacaf Champions League second leg with Saprissa

MONTREAL —  Head coach Thierry Henry was the first to admit that his Montreal Impact team did not have the fitness level to match that of Deportivo Saprissa in their Concacaf Champions League clash last week.

“They didn’t have 90 minutes in them,” Henry said. “Everybody knew. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.” 

Henry gave credit to Saprissa and their head coach Walter Centeno for how they played in the second half. The Frenchman said that his counterpart changed tactical formations four times during the game in order to help his team get the 2-2 first-leg draw.

Montreal midfielder Samuel Piette admitted that Saprissa’s tactical changes “surprised [them]" a little bit. Since the Impact have not been able to bridge the fitness gap between both clubs in a single week, Piette said Henry focussed on tactics.

“This week, we worked on the possibilities that we could be facing [on Wednesday] if there’s a change in the scoreline,” Piette said. “I think that this is how we’ll be able to make up for the lack of fitness on our side.” 

The Impact started the first leg in spectacular fashion scoring two early goals. Henry’s squad can attribute the early success to their five-man backline, which was unseen until last Wednesday. After the Impact coach admitted to not having a great preseason, the tactical change helped his squad get an early result. 

“There’s something that wasn’t working in preseason, you don’t have to be that clever to see that it wasn’t working,” Henry said. “You also need to see what the team is offering you and how they respond.

“So we went that way and it worked out at the beginning because it surprised them, I think. Are we going to play the same way [Wednesday]? I can’t answer that.”

The Impact are back home at Olympic Stadium with a 2-2 scoreline and two important away goals. For Montreal native Piette, it is imperative that his squad do not defend for 90 minutes to keep a 0-0 draw. 

“It’s delicate but the most important will be not to be only defending for 90 minutes,” Piette said. “For one, it’s very tough physically and secondly, when it’s been 10 or 15 minutes that you haven’t had the ball you tend to lose your confidence on the ball.” 

The Impact will also host their MLS season opener on Saturday when they take on the New England Revolution (3 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US, TVAS in Canada). For Saphir Taider, having the first game of the season on the back of their minds will not affect how they play in the CCL. 

“It’s not because we’re not favorites to win [the CCL] that we need to think of it as a bonus,” Taider said. “We need to play this competition with a desire to win and to go all the way. The team did it five years ago so why not this year?

“It’s modern football. It’s the football of today where games follow each other and we need to do it too and play every three days. It’s part of our jobs so it’s not really a problem.” 

As for Henry, being available to play — even on a two-game week — is what’s expected of a soccer player. 

“They’re here to be able to play and whoever is going to be fit to play is going to be at our disposal to start the game against New England,” Henry said. “That’s what you expect from your team, whatever game it is.” 

However, Henry added that he will delay his thought process for Saturday’s formation until the final whistle of Wednesday's CCL affair. 

“For me, there is a sense of urgency in every game,” Henry said. “Now, does it have an influence on how we’re going to play against New England? I can only tell at the end of the game. Because I didn’t expect that we would lose two players in the first 27 minutes of our first game. That’s something that you cannot predict. Let’s see how we’ll finish the game against Saprissa.”

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