When the Montreal Impact open Group C at the MLS is Back Tournament, their July 9 match (8 pm ET | TUDN, TSN, TVA) against the New England Revolution represents more than a rematch of their 2020 season opener.
It also could produce an MLS debut for midfielder Victor Wanyama, who signed a Designated Player deal March 3 in arriving from Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur. Montreal captain and defender Jukka Raitala is excited for that moment, with a recent practice showing that the Kenyan is a "real warrior."
“There was a situation where he was protecting the ball and I tried to tackle him and he didn't move at all,” Raitala said Thursday during a video conference call. “I asked him a question after practice: 'Has any player ever managed shoulder-against-shoulder to put you on the ground?' He was quiet, he didn't say anything.
“I think that's, for sure, something where this guy is strong, very clever player, very good with the ball and confident, very confident. Good teammate, he's happy. I don't know, I can only say positive things about him and I think he will be very good for us.”
Another factor that leaves Raitala excited is head coach Thierry Henry's extensive experience with navigating condensed tournaments. Henry was an assistant coach as Belgium finished third at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and he won the tournament in 1998 with France. The Frenchman also won the 2000 Euros and has made two UEFA Champions League finals, winning the 2008-09 one with Barcelona.
While the COVID-caused restrictions in Florida will be brand new, Raitala said Henry has an understanding of how to navigate down time. They’re playing three group-stage games over a 13-day window, and have to fill ample hours away from family.
“It's not only about practicing an hour-and-a-half each day, so it means you have 12 hours time to do something else,” Raitala said. “I would assume he has planned stuff for us and keep us focused and keep us also busy. It might be long days if we're just not talking about the team or not talking about our goals over there or the tactics.”
As Montreal looks for a competitive edge, Raitala knows navigating a group with New England, rivals Toronto FC and D.C. United won’t be easy. But he’s encouraged the team to stay single-minded after starting the year 1-0-1.
“It doesn't make any sense to go there and just give 50 percent of what you can,” Raitala said. “I think there is only one gear, and that's full speed. We're going to go there, and we want to win that tournament. That's for sure."