Montréal, New York face contrasting priorities ahead of CCL finale
The schedule may indicate Montréal will play its final game on Saturday, but its last meaningful match occurs at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night.
The visiting Impact will visit New York with CONCACAF Champions League seeding on its minds (8:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 2, FOX Sports Go). Montréal has already booked its place in the last eight after stringing together three wins from three matches, but it requires a fourth consecutive triumph to secure a top-three seed heading into the quarterfinals next year.
It is not a chance Frank Klopas and his players can afford to spurn. Portland offered a painful reminder about the perils of heading to Central America in need of a result on Tuesday night. Montréal can tilt the odds in its favor at the start of the knockout phase by taking care of a depleted Red Bulls side likely to rest its starters.
“We are going to play a very good team regardless if we finish at the top of the group,” Klopas told the club’s official website on Tuesday. “Finishing as a higher seed would help us being in a better position if we face a big club from Mexico early on next year.”
Montréal will have to wait until Thursday night to confirm the identity of its opposition, but there are pressing matters at hand to address before that juncture. Most of the players slated to take the field against the Red Bulls need to impress to keep their places between now and the start of the last eight next year.
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTERFINAL SEEDINGS (AS OF OCT. 22)
|1.||D.C. United (USA)*
||4-0-0 (12 pts.)
|2.||Club América (MEX)*
||3-0-1 (10 pts.)
||3-0-1 (10 pts.)
||3-0-0 (9 pts.) - one game left
||3-1-0 (9 pts.)||+7|
|6.||Montréal Impact (CAN)*
||3-0-0 (9 pts.) - one game left||+3|
|7.||Sporting Kansas City (USA)^||2-0-1 (7 pts.) - one game left||+5|
|8.||Alajuelense (CRC)*||1-0-3 (6 pts)
It is not enough to merely grind out a result at this stage. Each of the selected players must meet a high standard in order to reinforce his claims for a place in a side likely to make widespread changes ahead of next campaign.
Klopas will have a wealth of resources at his disposal -- Marco Di Vaio will free up budget room with his retirement, while the Impact is in line for a trove of allocation money due to its CCL successes and its MLS failures – to alter the composition of his group heading into next season. It is a predicament that piles pressure on the players attempting to keep their places and state their claims for a spot as the team evolves over the next few months.
“There will be guys who are fighting for jobs,” Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush told the club’s official website on Tuesday. “It’s an important game for us. We are worried about seeding in CONCACAF, so we need to focus on our game and not who they put out on the field.”
The incentive to field a strong team simply isn’t there for the Red Bulls. New York exited the competition with 0-0 draw at C.D. FAS last month. There is no road back for a team with greater ambitions ahead with the MLS postseason looming just around the corner.
New York coach Mike Petke conceded the inevitable turn toward reserves in the buildup to this meeting. It makes little sense to field a strong side with a trip to Sporting Kansas City ahead on Sunday. This affair instead provides yet another opportunity for his squad players to impress and press their own claims for a chance for an expanded first-team role.
“Tomorrow’s game is going to be an opportunity game for all the players who have not had much playing time,” Petke told the club’s official website on Tuesday. “It’s one final look before the last game of the season and the playoffs for who we can count on, who can make a stake for playing time, or off the bench depth.”
Petke bolstered his ranks for the match by recalling Connor Lade from NASL side New York Cosmos. Lade, 24, made seven appearances for the Cosmos as he shuffled back and forth between the clubs. He will remain with the Red Bulls for the remainder of the campaign, but his best chance to push onwards will come in yet another Champions League appearance.
Lade’s plight offers a neat summation of the road ahead in this tie. Both teams will field a group of players desperate to make their mark. One side will use that energy to move forward toward the playoffs. The other will simply try to perform well enough to earn a chance to take the field in the quarterfinal after a raft of changes during the close season.