Montreal Impact fans finally could get a chance to watch Ignacio Piatti again on Saturday.
After missing the last 10 games with knee and calf injuries, the star midfielder will likely dress for the Montreal Impact (6-5-2) when they host the last-place New England Revolution (3-8-2).
Though the Argentine is unlikely to start the match, he could come off the bench in the final minutes of the game.
"Nacho (Piatti) trained well yesterday and hopefully I will be able to include him with the next group," head coach Remi Garde said before training on Thursday. "You cannot rush a player but with Nacho, maybe a few minutes can be enough to make the difference for us.
"We’re impatient to have him back, but we can’t take any stupid risks by rushing him back. He hasn’t played in two months. It’s not after two training sessions that he’ll be back in top form. But I’ll speak to him and we’ll make that decision together."
Piatti suffered a right knee injury in the third game of the season on March 16 against Orlando City SC when an opposing player stepped on his leg.
There was no clear timetable for Piatti’s return and his road to recovery was hampered by setbacks. When the 34-year-old finally rejoined his teammates at training two weeks ago, he sustained a calf injury shortly after taking the pitch, further delaying his return.
Earlier this week, Piatti successfully completed a medical examination, clearing him to play. He was back at training starting Tuesday, where he looked agile and fit.
"He got crazy not playing," said Garde. "I wouldn’t have wanted to be at his home (during the last two months) because I’m sure it was a nightmare. He’s very, very happy to be back. But he’s once or twice tried to join the group already, and he’s had to stop, so he’ll be very happy when he gets to play a real game."
Montreal did fairly well without Piatti, going 4-4-2 in his absence. The Impact are fourth in the Eastern Conference, just four points behind front-running D.C. United.
But his return also comes at a good time for the Impact, who never really clicked on offence without him. Montreal’s goals-per-game ratio is one of the worst in Major League Soccer. Despite playing only three games this season, Piatti still is tied for the team scoring lead with three goals.
Garde’s men have dropped two of their last three games. The latest was a 2-1 defeat against expansion-side FC Cincinnati last week.
"Nacho is an excellent player," said striker Maxi Urruti, who leads Montreal with five assists. "For me, it’s very important (he’s coming back) because when he has the ball, I have more space. Yesterday in practice, when the guys were defending against him, I told them to take it easy, not to tackle him."
Saturday’s encounter will be a rematch of a game three weeks ago, when Montreal blanked the Revolution 3-0 in New England. Substitute Anthony Jackson-Hamel came off the bench to score twice for the visitors.
That loss to Montreal started a four-game winless skid for New England, leading to a major shake-up. Coach Brad Friedel was fired last week after 18 months on the job. Three days later, general manager Mike Burns was dismissed after eight years with the club.
That opened the door to legendary American soccer coach Bruce Arena, who was named New England’s new sporting director and coach this week. Arena is the second-winningest coach in MLS history. He has won a record five league titles.
His first test as new head coach is against Montreal on Saturday.
"It’s always hard to face a team that has a new coach," said midfielder Samuel Piette. "We saw that last week in Cincinnati. And there’s some extra pressure on us now because we’re at home.
"When you go on the road and get a point, that’s good. But if you get a point at home, it’s not enough. You’re supposed to get three points. That could be another dangerous thing for us."
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (3-8-2) AT MONTREAL IMPACT (6-5-2)
Saturday, Saputo Stadium
CLOSE TO HOME: After playing 10 of its first 13 games on the road, Montreal is looking forward to a lengthy homestand. The Impact play five of their next six games at Saputo Stadium, where they are 2-1-0 this season.
SAGNA SUSPENSION: Impact right back Bacary Sagna is serving a one-game suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards. He will not play versus New England.
THE INFIRMARY: Ignacio Piatti might be back from injury, but there are still question marks surrounding a few key Impact players. Victor Cabrera, Clement Bahiya, Saphir Taider, Harry Novillo and Mathieu Choiniere are all dealing with injuries.
GOALS GALORE: The Revolution have conceded 19 goals in their last five games. They have a league-worst minus-17 goal differential.
ROAD WOES: New England has yet to win on the road this season (0-4-2).