MONTREAL — For the first time in nearly two years, the Montreal Impact will play a Major League Soccer match without midfielder Samuel Piette.
The Canadian is suspended for Friday's clash between the Impact (6-5-3) and first-place Los Angeles FC (9-1-4) due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
The 24-year-old collected his fifth yellow of the season in stoppage time of Montreal's 0-0 draw against New England last weekend.
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"The timing of Sam's suspension is unfortunate," coach Remi Garde said. "He's very important to this team. It’s a very harsh suspension. The yellow cards Sam has gotten weren't always deserved, in my opinion.
"Sam is someone who always plays for the team. He always gives 100 per cent to balance the team in every situation, on attack or on defence. He has the right spirit and he's an example for a lot of guys in the locker-room. Not having him in the squad is a blow."
Piette's suspension ends a franchise-record streak of 51 consecutive starts in MLS. The last time Piette was kept out of a game was on Sept. 27, 2017, when the centre midfielder remained on the bench in a 1-0 loss to New York City FC.
Since joining the Impact in August 2017, the Repentigny, Que., native has started 59 of the team's 62 league matches.
"Sam's a guy we've counted on for the last 51 games," said goalkeeper Evan Bush, who has six clean sheets this season. "Some things change, some things stay the same, but we're going to need guys stepping into that position and around that position to play at that high level.
"Sam is very good at sitting in that position and defending, winning tackles and breaking up plays. We need a guy who's going to sit in front of the centre backs and make the game easier for us defensively, and also move the ball into positions where we can attack a little more freely."
There's no obvious candidate to replace Piette in that pivotal midfield spot. Because the Canadian international has cemented his place on the roster for the past two seasons, no other Impact player is fully comfortable at his position.
Micheal Azira and Shamit Shome are potential replacements, said Garde, though both midfielders prefer playing further up the pitch. Garde also said he would consider using a 4-2-3-1 formation, with two holding midfielders in front of Bush, rather than the team's preferred 4-3-3.
Ignacio Piatti is expected to see increased playing time, though he may not start. Piatti came off the bench and played 24 minutes last week versus New England after missing 10 games with a knee injury. The Argentine said he is feeling healthy enough to start if called upon.
Piatti's goal-scoring prowess is desperately needed as Montreal continues to struggle up front. The Impact, who have scored three goals in their last four games, have one of the worst goals-per-game ratios in MLS.
Garde will not be able to rely on newly signed Panamanian forward Omar Browne, who suffered a groin injury in training last week and is still recovering.
Scoring goals has not been a problem for red-hot LAFC, who are unbeaten at home this year (6-0-1) while outscoring opponents 16-4. Los Angeles leads the league with 32 goals and an impressive plus-23 goal differential.
L.A.’s leading goal scorer Carlos Vela has an MLS-best 14 goals — one fewer than the entire Impact squad. He has scored in 10 of LAFC's 14 matches this year.
Vela is well known within the Impact camp. While playing for Real Sociedad in 2013, the Mexican international scored twice to defeat Garde's Lyon 4-0 on aggregate in a UEFA Champions League playoff matchup. Vela also has played alongside Piatti at the MLS all-star game.
"He's a great player and a great person," said Piatti of Vela. "This year, he's scored so many goals. And last year, too. We have to be ready for him because he wants to win all the time."
MONTREAL IMPACT (6-5-3) AT LOS ANGELES FC (9-1-4)
Friday, Banc of California Stadium
BUSY SCHEDULE: Beginning Friday in Los Angeles, the Impact play four games in 12 days ahead of the three-week international break.
UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY: The Impact have never travelled to Banc of California Stadium. In the only other meeting between these two teams, LAFC came from behind to defeat Montreal 5-3 at Saputo Stadium last season.
GOING STREAKING: If Los Angeles earns at least one point against Montreal, it will be the team's second seven-game unbeaten run of the campaign.
VALIANT VELA: Carlos Vela has scored in three straight games for LAFC. With 14 goals and seven assists, Vela has been involved in 66 per cent of his team’s goals.