For the last few seasons, the Montreal Impact has made a habit of besting the New York Red Bulls in big games. In the group stage of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League and last year’s MLS playoffs, the Canadian club has spoiled RBNY’s ambitions.
So will the Red Bulls take the field on Saturday, June 3, looking for revenge, or are they treating is this game just another regular-season stepping stone toward their goals for this season?
“I choose the latter. I think right now, for us, it’s about how we are playing at the moment. I feel like the last two performances have been quite good - something we want to continue to improve upon,” said Luis Robles to reporters at the Red Bull Training Facility this week. “And we know that playing on the road in this league is especially tough, but going up against an Eastern Conference opponent - it’s an opportunity for us to continue to climb the table and show ourselves that the improvement is real.”
While RBNY has struggled to shrug off a slow start to MLS 2017, Montreal’s start has been slower. Much slower. L’Impact is currently bottom of the Eastern Conference, and has a modest, 2-2-1 record at home so far this season. But the Red Bulls only have one in Montreal since the Impact joined MLS in 2012. Last season’s playoff frustration was merely the most recent disappointment RBNY has suffered against the Impact.
“We were definitely frustrated with the way those [playoff] games took place and how the game turned in each match, but we have the confidence to play well against them and still manage to get results,” said Jesse Marsch. “This is a very good team, I think they are very dangerous and [Blerim] Dzemaili has been a great addition for them and it’s a very explosive attacking team.”
Montreal has re-tooled a little for 2017, figuring out ways to compensate for the absence of superstar Didier Drogba, now signed up to Phoenix Rising’s quest for success in USL and its bid to join MLS in the next wave of expansion.
But the roster still has experienced and dangerous players, including a pair of former Red Bulls full backs - Ambroise Oyongo and Chris Duvall. And, of course, pacey forward Dominic Oduro, who continues to torture defenders and hair stylists in equal measure.
“I think [Ignacio] Piatti is one of the best players in the league and he will be a tough task for us,” said Mike Grella, “But we feel confident that we can impose ourselves in the match up there.”
The Red Bulls also have to watch out for Montreal’s top attacking prospect in Anthony Jackson-Hamel. As you may remember a few weeks ago, he was the one who scored a brace at the Philadelphia Union to help the Impact dig out of a three-goal hole for a 3-3 draw.
“Jackson is a guy who started to come to the first team when I was there, I know him well. He’s physical and very strong and a guy who can finish and he’s improving his game,” said Felipe, “This year he is showing that he has quality and we need to be careful about those plays that can hurt us.”
Throw in the experience of Evan Bush in goal and Laurent Ciman at the heart of the back line, and L’Impact is a testing opponent, regardless of its position in the league.
And, of course, the Red Bulls have only won once in Montreal in L’Impact’s MLS era - and that was their expansion year at the “Big O” when Dane Richards and Kenny Cooper converted for the Red Bulls to clinch a 2-1 victory early in 2012. History is against RBNY in this match, but if the team can buck the trend of lackluster results in Montreal and find its way to three points, it will head into the forthcoming international break with the sense that it really has figured out how to eliminate its early-season problems.