Jeff Larentowicz

Schedule Changes, CCL Matches Alter Narrative When Fire Visit Montreal

What looked at season’s start like a trying April road trip for the Men In Red and a comfortable home contest for the Montreal Impact has evolved into something quite the opposite.

Thanks to a confluence of events, the Fire—who have won two straight matches to gain sole possession of fourth place in the East—likely will be heading to Stade Saputo on April 18 (2 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago Plus) with more in their proverbial gas tanks than their hosts.

The 2015 MLS schedule originally called for the Fire's visit to Montreal to be preceded by a Wednesday night match in the home of the defending Eastern Conference champion New England Revolution. 

But in an effort to avoid a conflict with the U.S. Men’s National Team friendly against Mexico slated for the same evening (April 15), that Fire-Revs contest was rescheduled to Saturday, June 13 at the request of New England. The result is a full two weeks between matches for the Fire and, consequently, more time to rest minor ailments currently felt by the likes of Michael Stephens (ankle), Quincy Amarikwa (ankle) and Matt Polster (hamstring).

“If it was this weekend, it might be tight, for all of them,” Frank Yallop said following training Thursday. “But with the break you get a chance to get guys recovered.”

By contrast, the Impact are enduring a strenuous series of matches, albeit one in which Frank Klopas’ men are more than happy to participate. On Tuesday, IMFC became only the second Major League Soccer side in history to reach the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, advancing past Alajuelense on away goals after a wild second leg saw the semifinals end 4-4 on aggregate.

Couple the travel and intensity involved in that match with another lengthy travel assignment to Houston Dynamo this Saturday, and it’s fair to say the Impact will be challenged to be at full strength when the Fire arrive next Saturday. The Canadian side also will be tasked with not looking ahead to the CCL final opening leg vs. Club America, slated for the following Wednesday (April 22) in Mexico City.

“It doesn’t change anything from what they’re going to do in MLS games,” Yallop said of the Impact’s involvement in the CCL final. “They can’t just give games away and just play guys they don’t feel are up to scratch. Maybe an eye on the mid-week game, but they’re trying to get points in our league right now.”

On Thursday, Major League Soccer announced the rescheduling of the Impact’s April 25 cross-country trip to San Jose Earthquakes to September 16, allowing the club to focus on their quest for CCL glory.

The Impact already are coping with the losses of standout players Justin Mapp and Cameron Porter, who both will miss extended action after suffering a dislocated elbow and knee ligament damage, respectively, over the course of the last month. 

Regardless of the effect on the early-season MLS table, Montreal’s performance in the CONCACAF Champions League is a clear positive in the eyes of Yallop.

“They’ve done fantastic to get through to the final of CCL,” Yallop said. “Very pleased to have an MLS team in the final."

Following an off-day on Wednesday, the Fire were undeterred in their Thursday return despite the severe weather passing through Chicagoland and the Midwest throughout the day. The Fire took to the training ground at Toyota Park under dry but ominous skies that eventually gave way to full-on downpours. A few lightning strikes sent the Men In Red to find cover midway through the session, but they were able to resume their on-field activities before too long. 

• After training, Yallop informed media that defender Greg Cochrane had joined up with USL afilliate Saint Louis FC, who are home to face the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at 7:30 p.m. CT Saturday. Homegrown defender Patrick Doody and goalkeeper Alec Kann are also currently with the USL side, and Yallop indicated it was unlikely there would be additional loanees in the near future while the Fire nurse some nagging injuries in the First Team. 

• Joevin Jones, whose first career MLS goal received a nomination for Goal of the Week honors in the league, is happy to be contributing in the attacking third from his left back position. 

"As a defender, when you can assist or you can score, it's a big plus to you and it motivates you alot," Jones said. "Game by game we are getting better and better. We're performing well now and I think the fans are excited to see us play."

• The Chicago Fire announced on Thursday plans for the fifth annual Practice In The Community presented by UI Health. The Fire will bring their training session to Little Village on the morning of Saturday, April 25, in an event that is free and open to all members of the community.