Martin Tomszak has a look at some familiar faces on the other side in this week's match preview.
Qui sont-ils? Aperçu du Match Contre Montreal
Rarely would you condone celebrating a tie the way that the Fire did last Friday, but considering it was a comeback away against a big rival that happens to be firmly perched in a playoff spot and it also marked the first goal from a Fire forward this season, Chicago fans will allow it. This week won’t get much easier for the Fire as they take on a resurgent Montreal team.
Montreal Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): W-W-L-L-D
Previous match: A 2-1 home win against Dallas.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1; Bush; Oyongo, Ciman, Soumare, Miller; Wallace, Donandel; Duka, Piatti, Romero; McInerney
Nostalgia: Have you ever gone to a party that you knew your ex was going to be at and told your current significant other to dress a little sexier? Cue Montreal. We can talk strategy, formations, and statistics later but sometimes soccer is all about heart, character and emotion. When the referee blows the whistle for kick off on Saturday, there are a few Montreal players that will have something to prove to themselves, to the fans in Chicago, and to the Fire front office. Bakary Soumare, Dilly Duka, Dominic Oduro, and Justin Mapp have all played for the Fire at some point in their careers. Not only that, but they have all been sent packing by the Fire after being deemed surplus to the plans of the organization, a verdict often passed down because of their lack of performance.
While Mapp is out because of a terrible injury sustained in March, you can bet he will be watching with mixed emotions. Mapp spent eight seasons with the Fire, winning two open cups and making 208 appearances for them before being traded to Philadelphia in the middle of 2010. Soumare’s past with the Fire is almost equally impressive, having had two separate stints with the Fire (2007-2009 and 2013-2014) while making 129 appearances. His most recent departure to Montreal came via the re-entry draft after Frank Yallop decided to make drastic changes to the 2015 Fire lineup. Soumare left with some harsh words about the Fire pitch and metaphorically about the organization as a whole. Win, lose, or draw, you can expect Soumare to play a prominent role in the match proceedings.
The two other former Fire players may not have had as long of a tenure in Chicago, but they will be equally fired up for Saturday’s match. Dilly Duka spent just two short seasons in Chicago (2013-2014), making 41 total appearances for the club. However, 35 of these came under current Montreal coach and Fire legend Frank Klopas. When Yallop took the reins in Chicago he utilized Duka just six times, and only three of those as a starter.
The last member of the group on the field is Dominic Oduro. Although he pulled up with a groin strain against RSL and didn’t feature against Dallas, you can bet that if there’s even a remote chance to see the field against Chicago he’ll take it. While Oduro has quickly become a MLS mercenary, changing clubs more than he changes hairstyles, he still has fans in Chicago. Between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Oduro made 73 appearances in all competitions for the Fire, notching 20 goals. He seems to make extra effort to score against former teams, so Chicago’s veteran center backs will need to watch for the typical strategy teams implement when Oduro is on the field, “play the ball into space and see if he can get a shot on target”.
Frank Klopas: The man calling the shots for Montreal will make his second trip back to Toyota Park as the opposition after serving as both the Fire’s Technical Director and coach. His history with the club deserves an article all its own, but let’s just say that on Saturday you can expect magic Greek beads and lots of “Kurwa”.
Strengths: Montreal’s current form has to be noted as their greatest strength. After a gut wrenching loss to Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, Montreal’s woes continued with a loss against Portland at the Stade Saputo. However, since then Klopas has the team believing in itself. They have advanced to the final of the Canadian Championship and have beaten two of the Western Conference’s tougher teams in their last two league matches.
Klopas has implemented a 4-2-3-1 formation in Montreal and the previously listed line up has been his preferred one for the last few weeks given form and injuries. The only exception is the rotation of Jack McInerney and Oduro as starters at forward. Reports indicate that Oduro may be out for several weeks so the matchup against a relatively slow center back pairing won’t materialize. While Oduro has the speed, McInerney boasts four goals and an assist against the Fire in seven career appearances against them. Either way, Montreal will look to test a Fire back four that has conceded two goals in each of its last three matches.
With Duka, Andres Romero, and Ignacio Piatti making up the remainder of Montreal’s attacking force, expect quick counters and precise passing to the lone striker. The fact that Montreal prefers to soak up pressure and punish in transition is reiterated by the fact that they tend to lose matches in which they have the edge in possession, while the last two victories have come in matches where their opponents have out-possessed them. A strong anchor is offered by the “two” sitting in front of the defenders which can congest the midfield while also serving as a quick link-up hinge for the counter.
If this seems familiar, that’s because Montreal sets up and plays in a way that is reminiscent of the Fire’s last opponent, Columbus Crew SC. The Fire will hope to learn from their mistakes last week because Montreal has gotten a result from every match in which they have scored first. Montreal is playing with a certain sense of freedom knowing that they have at least three matches in hand against their opponents, and they will look to exploit what is becoming an ever more tense Chicago side in order to leap frog the Fire in the standings.
Issues at the Back: While Fire fans may have mixed feelings about some of the players that were let go and eventually ended up in Montreal during the last few seasons, it is undeniable that for one reason or another they weren’t producing what the coaching staff, front office, and supporters expected. When looking at some of the goals given up by Montreal this season it is clear that the Fire were justified in at least one of those moves.
Whether on grass or on turf, in the air or on the ground, set pieces or live play, Soumare continues to show that there are times when he simply doesn’t feel like defending. Key examples in the past four matches include his ball watching on Nat Borchers’ goal in the loss to Portland, and his inability to stay close to Giles Barnes before getting nut-meged on Houston’s second goal in that game. If the Fire get at him continuously, especially with the weight of this particular match, he will make mistakes.
Soumare’s center back partner may have played in the previous World Cup, but he is no speed demon either and has shown that throughout the season. When you add the fact that Montreal’s depth at the back is being tested by injuries to Adrian Lopez, Hassoun Camara, Victor Cabrera, and Eric Miller, the Fire should be able to create chances. The Impact will likely continue to start youngster Ambroise Oyongo at right back, or convert Nigel Reo-Coker to the position as they did against Portland. Mixing up the back line continually begs for communication mistakes, especially in a fast paced match. The speed of David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike, Joevin Jones, and Lovel Palmer may prove to be too much for Montreal on the day.
Away Form: While the Impact must be praised for their last two home matches, their away form has been atrocious. They haven’t won any of their three away games, and even more importantly they haven’t scored a single goal in those matches. Whatever the reason, they seem to be lost outside of the confines of Montreal. There’s a first time for everything, but the away team has never won in this series and it is hard to see that changing on Saturday.
Prediction: The Fire’s season has been a roller coaster, but they can’t lose this one. Chicago 4-2 Montreal. Predicting Fire goal scores has been nearly impossible, but one can envision a Soumare goal for each side.