Thierry Henry's managerial debut with the Montreal Impact has been an encouraging one. The famous French striker now makes his MLS bow on the touchline Saturday when the Impact host the New England Revolution.
The Impact's decision in November to tab the 42-year-old Henry raised some eyebrows considering the Arsenal legend had flamed out in his only previous coaching stint at Monaco. He won just four of 20 matches in all competitions as a midseason replacement of a Ligue 1 side that was in Champions League and was sacked in January with the team second-to-last.
A second chance for Henry to prove himself as manager will also be a formidable challenge as Montreal (12-17-5). The Impact faded down the stretch as a managerial change to Wilmer Cabrera failed to lift the club out of its doldrums under predecessor Remi Garde.
Henry has a relatively untested side that also could struggle at times to score goals this season. No one reached double figures last year, and playmaker Saphir Taider - who had a team-best nine goals and tied for the team lead with seven assists - will be counted on to provide chances.
Unsurprisingly, there is no one close to the caliber of Henry's finishing skills from his playing days as one of the most lethal strikers on the planet, which leaves Bojan, newcomer Romell Quioto, Orji Okwonkwo and Maxi Urruti fighting for playing time as the top center-forward.
The first clues about the identity Henry is trying to create came in their CONCACAF Champions League tie versus Costa Rican side CD Saprissa. The Impact advanced on the away goals tiebreaker following a scoreless draw in Henry's home debut Wednesday night. Montreal was content to soak up pressure and cede possession - getting outshot 13-3 for the match - but Clement Diop made the two saves the Impact needed for the clean sheet, including a key save in the 89th minute on a long-distance effort by Mariano Torres.
"It wasn't an easy game, like we saw," Henry said to the Impact's official website. We could've changed the complexion of this game in the very beginning with Bojan's opportunity, but he couldn't finish it off, which can happen. There was that lovely move from Shamit (Shome) as well who almost scored before the half. We knew we were going to suffer in the second half, but we managed the pressure well. The guys fought hard tonight, but they were a very difficult team to maneuver."
After performing an admirable rescue mission to get the Revolution (11-11-12) into the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, Bruce Arena returns for his first full season in charge as he looks to add to his already storied domestic coaching legacy as a five-time MLS Cup champion.
It helps that team owner Robert Kraft is on board with spending money on the Revs, who have a full complement of three designated players after signing striker Adam Buska, who had 18 goals in 40 appearances over the last two seasons with Polish side Pogon Szczein.
Buska will try to form an offensive trident with holdovers Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou, with the latter the driving force in New England's playoff charge last season following his January arrival. Bou had nine goals in just 15 matches, forming an instant chemistry with Gil, who paced the Revolution with 10 goals and 13 assists and had the primary assist on three of Bou's goals.
Gil, though, is expected to be held out of the season opener as a precaution as he continues to recover from a minor foot injury. Bou will likely take on the playmaking duties as New England looks to avoid duplicating last season's horrific start in which it took just eight points from the first 12 matches.
"Gustavo Bou can play a lot of positions on the field quite well. He'll pick up the slack until Carles is ready," Arena said at his media availability Wednesday. "I think we've had a good preseason. What matters now is how we start Saturday.
"Hopefully we're a balanced team. That's been our objective. I wasn't around for a lot of games last year. But I can tell you that midway through the season you don't want to have the worst record in the league. We want to get off to a much better start this year."
Montreal claimed four of six points in last season's meetings, playing both matches when New England struggled early. Anthony Jackson-Hamel had a brace in a 3-0 victory at New England before the teams played to a scoreless draw north of the border in the most recent meeting in May.
The game is being played at Olympic Stadium, and the Impact will embark on a four-match road swing before playing their Stade Saputo opener April 18 versus Houston.