The Montreal Impact are hoping new winger Lassi Lappalainen can help them snap a season-long four-game losing streak.
The speedy Finnish midfielder – Montreal’s only signing of the MLS secondary transfer window – is eligible for Saturday’s contest between the Impact (9-11-3) and first-place Philadelphia Union (11-6-6) at Saputo Stadium.
Winless in the league since June 26, Montreal has slipped into sixth in the Eastern Conference – nine points behind Philly. The top seven teams make the playoffs.
“It’s a good step for me to come from Finland to here. It’s good to be here,” Lappalainen said. “I want to go forward with the ball. I want to dribble. I want to make good passes and score goals. I want to work hard for the team so we can succeed.
“I hope I can play here as much as I can and do good.”
Lappalainen is on a six-month loan from Serie A club Bologna with an option to extend next year. The 20-year-old previously played with HJK Helsinki in Finland’s top league, where he scored six goals in all competitions this year. Lappalainen also played five games with the Finland national team.
The midfielder’s preferred position is on the left flank, which is where captain Ignacio Piatti plays. That means Lappalainen could be a fast-paced, electric option off the bench for coach Rémi Garde. The newcomer also says he could play on the right wing if needed.
It was Impact defender and fellow Finnish international Jukka Raitala who convinced Lappalainen to make the move overseas. Raitala has been showing his countryman the ropes at training this week.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played with a Finnish guy in a club team,” said the 30-year-old Raitala. “I’m very happy Lassi joined the team. I definitely believe he can make a big impact right away. He’s looking sharp.
“He’s very fast. We need to use that. We need to use his pace. He probably wants to get in situations one against one and get the balls in behind the lines. That’s something we’ve been lacking lately.”
The Impact have scored four goals on their current four-game slide. They have 27 goals this season – third fewest in the East. Lappalainen may be the missing piece that will help boost the stalled offence.
The other is Piatti, who will play his first MLS game since May 24 after missing the last nine with a knee injury. The Argentine has featured in only five of his team’s 23 MLS matches this year.
Piatti made his return on Wednesday when he led Montreal to a 1-0 victory over Canadian Premier League side York9 FC in the second leg of the Canadian Championship quarter-final. The 34-year-old scored the game’s only goal from the penalty spot.
That result ended a five-game winless run for the Impact in all competitions and the team is hoping to ride that momentum into Saturday’s MLS clash with Philadelphia.
“It’s such a positive. It gave us the will to keep working,” Garde said of the 1-0 victory. “Sometimes you don’t necessarily deserve to lose. Look at that loss against Minnesota [3-2 at home on July 6], that one hurt us a lot. I’m not sure we deserved to lose that one. When you work hard and still lose, that’s not easy.
“We did what we needed to do on Wednesday. That game can give us confidence going against Philadelphia.”
A strong start to the season propelled the Union into top spot in the Eastern Conference. Philly is coming off a 2-0 win at home against the Chicago Fire last week. The team remains on pace for its best MLS season.
Philadelphia’s most dangerous offensive threat is Polish striker Kacper Przybylko, who leads the team with nine goals.
“As a team that’s in first place now, we are going to get everyone’s best punch,” Union coach Jim Curtin told the team’s website. “It’s a challenge to stay where we are in the table. We’ve been able to sustain it for roughly 12 weeks in a row where we have a target on our back. I think the players have embraced that.”
PHILADELPHIA UNION (11-6-6) AT MONTREAL IMPACT(9-11-3)
Saturday, Saputo Stadium
SEEING RED: Bacary Sagna is not available for Montreal’s game against Philly. The former Arsenal defender is serving a one-game suspension for his red card last week in Columbus.
INJURIES: Midfielder Samuel Piette (intercostal) and defender Victor Cabrera (arm) will not face Philadelphia.
FRESH FACE: The Union acquired goalie Joe Bendik from the Columbus Crew this week. Bendik previously played for Orlando, Toronto and Portland.
HEAD TO HEAD: The Impact are 8-5-6 all-time against the Union. That record improves to 6-2-1 when Montreal is at home.