A win in their final group stage game, coupled with other group results somehow gave the Montreal Impact new life in the MLS is Back Tournament and a ticket to the Knockout Rounds. But there were few signs of life from Thierry Henry’s side in their Round of 16 loss against Orlando City.
The Lions controlled the match from start to finish, found the goal on the hour mark and ultimately secured the 1-0 result that sent the Impact packing.
“I think the fact that we didn’t win our battles and we were always a step behind in everything, it played hard on our team and we couldn’t really catch up, especially in the first half,” Impact captain Samuel Piette said postgame. “I‘m not blaming fatigue or tactics. It’s just individuals that we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we have to give more for this badge and this club.”
Henry, Montreal’s first-year manager, sounded a slightly different tone on the elimination, choosing to highlight the fact that his team leaves Orlando in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference regular season standings despite the mixed bag of results at the MLS is Back Tournament: 1W-3L-0D record, 4 goals scored, 6 goals allowed.
“Yes, we do have to improve, that’s for sure,” Henry said. “But we’re only five games into the league [season] and obviously we had games here, but it’s still early for me here. The process is still on. We still have to try to find the right balance defensively and offensively … We need to find the right balance. But I just arrived here.”
The topic of balance is one that Henry drove home after media questioned his side’s ability to create scoring chances against Orlando. The former French World Cup champion proceeded to list all the 2020 games in which his team has scored goals. The stats say they've scored and conceded exactly eight goals.
“I don’t know if you follow us since the beginning of the season, but we score goals. Have a look,” Henry told one media member. “We score goals, but we also concede. So we have to find the right balance.”
“I don’t think we’re a defensive team or offensive team,” Piette said in response to a similarly themed question. “We try to keep clean sheets and try to score as many goals as possible. Like I said, sometimes it doesn’t go your way ... It’s just how the game came up and how we played as individuals, as well. We weren’t creating enough offense as we wanted to. I don’t think it’s the coach’s fault or tactics or the way we’re playing. That’s not the case at all.”
The definitive blow in the Orlando match was dealt by Tesho Akindele at the hour mark, when he poked a loose ball into an empty net after Impact center back Rod Fanni was beaten to the ball at the edge of the area and goalkeeper Clement Diop couldn’t stop the ball played in his direction.
Impact veteran defender Jukka Raitala didn’t even want to comment on the play, calling it “an individual mistake for our team, and that’s very sad.”
Henry didn’t dwell on the errors and defended his team – “I have to look after my players,” he said. He complemented their efforts throughout the tournament and made it clear that the circumstances of recent weeks and months weren’t the easiest for them to deal with. The Impact were also one of the last MLS clubs to begin training in their own market.
“It’s like the end of a preseason,” Henry said. “Obviously, some things can be improved. I am proud of my players. We came here, we did what we did despite having restarted to train later than other teams. And we are in a playoff position.”
“Obviously, we wanted to go all the way,” Piette said. “We knew it was a tough tournament and the way we played against Toronto [4-3 loss] and D.C. [1-0 win], we strongly believed that we could’ve beaten anybody.”