The protagonists of the game.
That’s how Head Coach Oscar Pareja describes the manner in which he wants his team to play.
It’s a style that centers around control. Controlling the possession, the pace and the flow of the game. Through three matches, the Lions have been successful in doing just that.
They out-possessed both Miami and Philadelphia, with NYCFC holding a slight edge in their second fixture after City jumped out to an early two-goal lead inside the first 10 minutes of play. In each match, the Lions looked very much in control, playing with purposeful possession and a continuous push moving forward.
Saturday’s opponent plays with a similar mindset, as Montreal has held the majority of the possession in two of their three fixtures in the group stage against New England and Toronto, with D.C. holding the slight edge in that regard in their final match in Group C on Tuesday - a match that the Impact won.
The Lions were definitely the more successful of the two sides in terms of executing their idea, with a 2-0-1 record in the group stage to Montreal’s 1-2-0, but Thierry Henry’s side will certainly try to maintain that style come Saturday night.
“We understand Montreal as a team who likes to hold and create sequences with the ball. I think it’s going to be a battle in terms of who wants it. We want the ball and our players have been training to do that,” Pareja said ahead of Saturday’s match.
“We don’t want to go chase it, we want the opponent to work to do that and Montreal plays with the same idea. I think it’s going to be a beautiful game. It’s a team who has an idea of possession too and we’re going to fight for the ball for sure.”
That fight is representative of Pareja’s continued idea of being the protagonists on the pitch, with the Lions intentional in their approach to keep the ball away from the Impact come Saturday.
The match will kick off the Knockout Rounds of the tournament, serving as the opening Round of 16 fixture on Saturday night. With the mindset now as win-or-go-home, the Lions are taking a one match at a time approach, with the sole focus right now being to beat Montreal.
Looking at last season’s results, each side earned a road victory against the other a year ago. The Lions put together arguably their best performance of the season at Stade Saputo, a 3-0 shutout victory on June 1. If previous matchups have been any indication, then Saturday’s contest is slated to be a battle for a spot in the Quarterfinals.
“They’re shaping up to be a really good team and came out of the quarantine looking pretty hot. The results didn’t go their way against Toronto, obviously that was a derby game and you never really know what can happen. In the other games that they played, they looked sharp, they controlled most of the game,’ Lions forward Chris Mueller said of the Impact.
“I think they have a nice tempo to their play and [Thierry] Henry has been doing some good things with them. They have some good individual players, so for sure it’s going to be a battle. It’s always been a good match whenever we’ve played against them. I think it’s been a back and forth battle and it’s going to be a really good game to start off the Knockout Rounds on Saturday.”