The Montreal Impact enter CCL expected to play on the counter-attack. Here is how the signing of Steeven Saba is crucial to that strategy and could turn the Impact into dangerous opponents.
It has been a quiet offseason thus far for the Montreal Impact as the club heads into the CONCACAF Champions League with important roster holes still needing to be filled.
Other than the blockbuster hiring of French soccer legend Thierry Henry as their new head coach, the Impact have only been able to add Honduran International Romell Quioto to a roster already deep with talent on the wings.
But on Sunday, news broke that Haitian International, Steeven Saba, would soon be joining the Impact as the club’s first signing of 2020. With Saba now on the roster, Montreal has taken an important first step towards making a deep CCL run.
Saba first jumped onto the radar of MLS teams last summer during the CONCACAF Gold Cup where he started all five games for Haiti in their historic run to the semi-finals. The deep-lying midfielder excels at winning balls in the middle of the field, before initiating quick and seamless counter-attacks with his passing abilities.
He also has a dangerous delivery from set-pieces where he regularly stood over the ball for Haiti in the Gold Cup. His stellar play in the tournament was acknowledged when he was named to the Group Stage Best XI as he contributed a goal and an assist for Les Grenadiers throughout their campaign.
With Montreal now entering preseason, Saba will have the opportunity to build on his past Gold Cup performances by providing Henry with a unique and much-needed skillset, along with new tactical flexibility. While the Impact have never been short on attacking talent, the club’s Achilles’ heel has been their ability to defend. In 2019, Montreal conceded 60 goals in MLS, the second-most in the Eastern Conference.
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While Saba will obviously not completely fix Montreal’s defensive vulnerabilities, he will be able to help add to the Impact’s strength of scoring on the counter. Lining up next to another midfield destroyer in Samuel Piette, Saba can help lock down the defensive responsibilities in the middle of the field, allowing Montreal’s front four to focus more on the attack.
And in the CCL, this is could be especially pertinent. If the Impact implements a bunkering strategy throughout the tournament, as is likely, Saba will join Piette in winning tackles in deep-lying positions before triggering attacking runs with pinpoint long balls to the opposite side of the pitch.
Positioning Saba as a holding midfielder will also allow Henry with the tactical flexibility to move Saphir Taider further up the field and into a more attacking role. The Algerian international has been one of the league’s best midfielders over the past two seasons, and with Saba staying back to defend, Taider will now be able to focus more on combining in the attacking third with Ignacio Piatti and Bojan. If Saba and Piette are able to protect the Impact’s vulnerable backline with enough resilience, Montreal may become a dangerous force on the break in the CCL.
The Montreal Impact still have some work to do before they take on a tough Saprissa side in the tournament’s first round. They still need a signing or two along the backline, while some reinforcement at center-forward wouldn’t hurt. But if Montreal commits to the bunker-and-counter strategy, they could have success in the CCL. And Steeven Saba might just be key.