In what may be the biggest in-season gamble in franchise history, the Montreal Impact have stunningly turned to Wilmer Cabrera to get them into the playoffs, starting with Saturday’s 401 Derby at Toronto FC.
Cabrera was unemployed for all of eight days after being fired by the Dynamo. The 51-year-old had led Houston to one playoff appearance in his previous three seasons, but the team parted ways with him after a 2-1 loss at Philadelphia on Aug. 11 left the Dynamo ninth in the Western Conference.
The situation Cabrera inherits in Montreal is challenging, yet manageable, following the surprising firing of Remi Garde on Wednesday. The Impact (10-4-13) currently occupy the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by virtue of having more wins than Orlando City and Toronto FC (9-7-10). All three clubs have 34 points, with Chicago one point further back, and the Reds have a match in hand.
“Because I have so much respect for Remi as a person and as a professional, it was a very difficult decision to make and it was well thought, but our latest series of failures in the past couple of months and the way the team acts on the field led to that change,” team president and CEO Kevin Gilmore said in a statement.
“We hope to bring back confidence to this group of players for the last stretch of the season, to get a playoff spot and to perform in the Canadian Championship final. I would like to sincerely thank Remi Garde for his commitment and his professionalism with our club since he joined in November 2017. I wish him only but the best in the future.”
Montreal has just one win its last eight matches (1-1-6) after a 3-3 draw at home against FC Dallas last Saturday. The Impact led 3-0 after Orji Okwonkwo’s goal in the 56th minute and still had a two-goal lead with six minutes to play before conceding a penalty and a 90th-minute goal on a set piece.
Those defensive shortcomings have been a constant theme of late, with 21 of the 50 goals conceded on the season coming in those eight contests.
Cabrera, though, definitely has some talent offensively in Okwonkwo and Saphir Taider, who have combined for 16 goals. Summer transfer window signing and Finland international Lassi Lappalainen recorded his second brace in four matches Saturday since joining the team and assisted on Okwonkwo’s goal.
TFC salvaged a late point for the second straight match last Saturday, with Jozy Altidore drilling a header from six yards on a cross from Auro in the 90th minute to forge a 2-2 draw at Columbus. Altidore, who assisted on Jonathan Osorio’s goal in the 42nd minute to open the scoring, has scored six of his 10 goals in the eight matches after helping the U.S. reach the Gold Cup final this summer.
“Jozy can do anything he wants on the field,” TFC boss Greg Vanney told the club’s official website. “He has enough physical presence and technique to do whatever he wants. The key is getting him the ball, finding him in the right places, running off of him. The key is that we get numbers, so that we can find him in situations that are advantageous for him.
“We’ve got to put crosses in front of the box like Auro did to give ourselves a chance to get on the end of them. As a group we just have to keep working and adapting through the game.”
Altidore has nine goals in 13 career games against Montreal, including six in his last seven after capping the scoring in Toronto’s 2-0 road win July 13. The Reds are 6-3-2 at BMO Field all-time versus the Impact.
These teams will meet in a two-legged tie next month for the Canadian Championship.
(Wilmer Cabrera photo courtesy Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports)