Karl Ouimette didn’t see it coming. He had practically grown up in the Montreal Impact youth academy, and, in 2012, he became the first Homegrown signing in team history.
Everything had fallen into place. The Quebec native was not only battling for a starting berth on the back line with his hometown club, he was also drawing interest from the Canadian national team, and would soon make his international debut.
And then it all suddenly fell apart. After three years and 20 appearances, Ouimette was released in February.
“It was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting it,” Ouimette said. “They just told me there were too many men on the roster and there was no place for me. That’s the reason they gave me. I’ll just take it and just move on and it’s behind me now.”
A month later, he signed with the Red Bulls and was reunited with Jesse Marsch, his former coach in Montreal.
“It was difficult. It was four years in the academy and three years pro in the system,” Ouimette said. “It’s been very tough to get released from them. It was very hard. But just being here and seeing the organization with the Red Bulls, it’s amazing. Everybody’s nice, everybody’s positive. I like Jesse a lot. It made it easy for me to turn around and just work for the Red Bulls. It’s a pretty nice life around here and I’m enjoying it.”
Tonight, when the Red Bulls travel to Montreal to take on the Impact, Ouimette is expected to be in the starting lineup in central defense due to the suspension of Damien Perrinelle for yellow-card accumulation. It’s an opportunity Ouimette didn’t expect, but one he is looking forward to.
“I’ve been there 22 years of my life so it will be a little emotional,” the 23-year-old Ouimette said. “A lot of people are going to come, family and friends. Playing in front of them with another jersey on will be interesting.
“I’m always nervous but a good nervous before games, but I’ll just prepare. I know those guys so preparation will be a bit easier than usual. I don’t have to scout them. I know what their habits are. They’re a pretty good team, pretty decent players one v one. I’ll just go out there and enjoy myself.”
Marsch also expects Ouimette to handle the situation well.
“Karl’s a pretty centered young man, and if he does get the call I expect him to be able to handle the emotions of the moment in a really good way,” said Marsch, who said he is deciding between Ouimette and Roy Miller as a replacement for Perrinelle. “As much as the emotions are about being released it’s as much about coming up there with his new team and playing in front of his family and friends. I would expect if we call on him it will be a big moment for him and he will be up for the challenge.”
Marsch’s short history with the Impact also didn’t end well. In 2012, he became the first coach in club history and led the Impact to 12 wins, the most by an expansion club since 1998, yet he was fired after the season.
“Not much to it. Not much to it,” Marsch said about returning to Montreal. “It’s a long time ago now. They’ve moved on. I’m excited to see my friend Frank Klopas, who’s their coach up there, but other than that, just getting our team ready for another good effort on the road.”
The Red Bulls (9-6-5) have won their past two road games and five of six in the league overall. Marsch believes if the club can take three points tonight it will set them up well for the rest of the season when the Red Bulls play the majority of their games at home.
“After we get through this road game, if we dig in and get a good result up there, we set ourselves up for eight of 13 at home down the stretch,” he said.
Those games will now include Argentine winger Gonzalo Veron, who on Tuesday became the Red Bulls’ second designated player. The 25-year-old Veron, the youngest DP in club history, could make his debut Sunday against New York City FC at Red Bull Arena.
But first comes the Impact (8-8-3), who is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but just five points behind the second-place Red Bulls. They occupy the final playoff berth at the moment and the fan base has been energized by the signing of former Chelsea and Ivory Coast star Didier Drogba. A story out of Montreal said Drogba will be presented at halftime tonight, so he likely won’t play in the game.
“They’re actually in a really good way now,” Marsch said. “They’re as confident as they’ve been all year, but even without Drogba it’s still a dangerous team. I’ve been impressed with them this year and it’s a team that we have to make sure we limit them on the counter.”
Midfielder Ignacio Piati leads the club with eight goals and four assists while former Red Bulls forward Dominic Oduro has five. Tonight will be Montreal’s second game over an eight-day span.
“If you give him space and time, for sure he is a quality player,” Red Bulls midfielder Felipe said of Piati. “But we’ll see if he is the same kind of player when you put a lot of pressure on him, when you don’t make him play. He’s scored a lot of goals on PKs. You can’t give him a lot of time and space, and I think that’s the key.”
It’s also a return to Montreal for Felipe, who played three seasons with the Impact before coming to the Red Bulls this season.
“Now I play for Red Bulls,” Felipe said. “This is the team I fight for and this is the team I have to put everything into. Montreal is in the past. I have a respect for them, especially for the fans, but I want to make our fans happy.”
Kemar Lawrence, who was given time off following Jamaica’s run to the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, returns tonight and will start at left back, according to Marsch. Shaun Wright-Phillips is also expected to see more playing time than his 29-minute performance against the Philadelphia Union Saturday night.
“We’re still evaluating on whether to use him from the start or on the bench,” Marsch said. “I do think that he can be effective in both roles. He obviously provided such a spark coming off the bench in this last game. But that will be a good way that we can utilize him but that doesn’t eliminate him from the possibility of being used from the start.”