Montreal

A challenging 2020 season isn't getting any easier for the Montreal Impact

Have the challenges of playing a season through out a global pandemic finally worn down the Montreal Impact?

Soccer squad seems to be unravelling under pressure brought on by global pandemic

Montreal Impact head coach Thierry Henry has tried to buoy his players' spirits but things are difficult for the team, currently in a three-game losing streak. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

It looks like the extraordinary stresses of playing a soccer season during a global pandemic are starting to get to the Montreal Impact.

For months, the team held its own despite the circumstances brought on by COVID-19 but recently fans have watched as the squad appears to be unravelling both mentally and physically.

A compressed schedule to make up for lost time appears to be wearing the players down.

Injuries are piling up, and head-scratching, undisciplined play — leading to red card after red card — has cost them dearly.

The team is mired in a three-game losing streak and it doesn't feel like a typical slump.

"We have to adapt," is the message head coach Thierry Henry repeatedly drove home in his video-conference availabilities with journalists this season.

Yet one has to wonder if the logistics of this extraordinary year have won out over the players' will to once again answer the call from their coach.

Blame Canada

Typically when a team hits the skids like this, the manager would be the focus of heavy criticism.

Yet this is one of the rare times in professional sports where you can't point a finger of blame at anyone in particular.

Instead, the Impact's woes are largely a result of geography.

The Montreal Impact are in Canada, but Major League Soccer (MLS) is primarily a league of teams based in the USA.

The border has dumped a host of additional challenges onto Henry's squad that few could have anticipated prior to the pandemic.

In the spring and early summer, local public health restrictions in Quebec meant the Impact were among the last teams in the league to resume full-team training ahead of the 'MLS is Back' tournament, putting them behind their competition.

Following the tournament in Orlando, the players missed another two weeks of training while they quarantined upon their return to Montreal.

As the regular season continues this fall, Canadian quarantine restrictions make it impossible for the team to travel smoothly across the border and back.

As a result, this week, the team announced they will stay in the U.S. and play out their remaining home games at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.

Life on the road

Traditionally, when things are going badly for a team, a road trip can be a good thing because it can bring the players together and galvanize their resolve to fix their problems.

But this is no short road trip.

The Impact will be away until at least the season's end in early November, without the respite of a warm homecoming on the horizon at Saputo Stadium in front of their loyal fans.

Additionally, they will be separated from their families and sleeping in hotels night after night, while most of their competitors are returning daily to the comforts of home.

It also doesn't appear that help is on the way with reinforcements on the pitch.

To add a new quality player, Henry and the team's sporting director Olivier Renard would have to convince a potential new player to sign while it's currently unclear when he'd be able to properly unpack his bags.

It can't be easy.

Playoffs or bust

To Henry's credit, he has repeatedly refused to use any of the external issues the team has faced this year as an excuse for the results on the pitch.

Rightly, he knows that even in a season which was expected to be transitional before the pandemic hit, the fans won't let the squad off the hook if they fail to make the playoffs.

In a response to the extraordinary circumstances this season, the MLS expanded its postseason to include an unprecedented 10 teams in the 14-team Eastern Conference. The door is wide open for the Impact to make the cut for the postseason for the first time since 2016.

The Impact have eight games to go in the 2020 season and nothing will be easy about the final stretch as they adjust to making Red Bull Arena their home.

But despite their recent struggles, everything is still possible.

The team is still in a decent position and there is still time to right the ship.

But to get there their mettle will be tested like never before as will their willingness to accept to their coach's call to fight and adapt.

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