The math is simple for Montreal Impact. Any win against Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday evening and they will clinch a spot in this year’s Canadian Championship final against whoever wins this weekend’s Canadian Premier League final at the Island Games in PEI.
Forge FC or HFX Wanderers would await Thierry Henry’s men if they get the job done at BC Place. Standing in their way of that, however, is going to be a wounded Whitecaps side that want to make a point after Sunday’s poor outing in a 4-2 loss against the Impact.
It’s the third meeting in 23 days between the teams and the second match in a short four day turnaround. Montreal have looked fairly comfortable in their two victories over Vancouver, seldom having to really get out of second gear, but the Impact are certainly not taking anything for granted or underestimating the threat that the Whitecaps could pose them in this one.
“Complacency is not in my dictionary,” Henry told reporters on a media call on Tuesday afternoon. “I never talk about it. I always talk about trying to win games and go forward. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and when it doesn’t happen I’m trying to rectify it.
“We’re going to play against a team that’s difficult to beat, whoever is playing. It’s never easy to beat a team twice in three days, so that is what we’re going to try to do. But I can assure you we’re not talking about it is going to be an easy game. We’re not talking about we have beaten them two times already. Our mind is not there at all.
“It’s one game at a time. Whatever happened in the past, happened in the past. It’s already in the bag, or not. Now we have to concentrate to play against the same team that’s going to play maybe a different way. I don’t know, but massive respect. You have to respect your opponent and be prepared to play, whether you’ve beaten that opponent before or not.”
It’s also likely to be a very different looking Whitecaps side that the Impact will face on Wednesday night.
The ‘Caps will definitely be missing Designated Player striker Lucas Cavallini, who was sent off in an unsavoury incident on Sunday and could be facing more than just a one match ban. Head coach Marc Dos Santos will undoubtedly be ringing some other changes to Vancouver’s line-up, formation, and tactical approach, making it tougher for Montreal to fully prepare for exactly what they’ll be facing.
“We’ll look at the previous game, and take the stuff we need to improve,” Montreal captain Jukka Raitala mused. “For now we’re more focused on ourselves and the way we want to play. We want to improve and we want to play forward, so it doesn’t really matter who we play against. We’ll see tomorrow what kind of players they put on the field, but we have to focus on ourselves.”
The added interesting wrinkle to Wednesday’s meeting is that Canadian Championship final berth.
If Montreal win, they’re in. But if they are drawing late into the game, do they push forward looking to claim that final spot, while risking leaving themselves open to being scored upon and losing a what could prove to be a crucial MLS away point in the process?
With the Eastern Conference standings likely to come down to the narrowest of margins come playoff time, it’s a fine and unique balancing act for Henry and his team.
“If you’re 1-0 up away from home, that’s an amazing result,” Henry said. “Regardless of what happens at the end, you just don’t know, to end up tying the game. Whether it’s to get to the final of a cup or getting three points in the league, it would be the same approach.
“That’s something we didn’t do well the other day against Toronto in the 89th minute. You’re trying to keep a result. It’s a good result. So it won’t change anything.”
For Raitala, it’s more clear cut. You go for the win and you go for the jugular early to prevent that scenario even coming into play.
“I think the way we’ve been playing under Thierry is we want to go forward, we want to score goals, we want to play entertaining soccer,” said the Finn. “Obviously if you’re at the end of the game, leading, and it’s the 85th minute, you have to be clever, but otherwise if we score the first goal we want to score the second and third.
“We can’t go the entire game and think about only winning that game 1-0. We’re going to go and try and win by as many goals as possible.”