N’importe quoi!: La deuxième réunion avec Montréal
“I think we are all happy with the point today”. The Chicago Fire find themselves at the bottom of the league with just 19 points from 22 matches and that was what Head Coach Veljko Paunovic had to say after a home draw against Orlando. They are mathematically still alive in the playoff race but an attitude like that largely suggests that even the overly hopeful Serbian has given up. We described the remainder of this season as a Swan Song in our last preview and that Swan Song continues this Saturday as Chicago travels North of the border to the land of poutine and quasi-separatism to take on the Montreal Impact.
Fire supporters and keyboard warriors alike will be jumping at the opportunity to talk about former Chicago legends Didier Drogba, Harry Shipp and Dominic Oduro prior to the match but there is more on the line for Montreal than nostalgia as they look to solidify a place in the post season. An up and down summer sees the Impact sitting in fifth place as they head into this fixture but a six point cushion hasn’t always been enough to ensure a playoff spot with eleven unpredictable matches still left to play. Saturday will be an important marker for their intentions.
Questions are starting to surface about Paunovic’s coaching ability, the heart of the squad, and Nelson Rodriguez’s process as the final stretch of matches approaches for Chicago. Playoff dreams aside there is still a lot to play for as the Fire close out 2016 and ending the 39 match road winless streak could be a shiny gold star on a rather bland season. Will Chicago salvage some pride in Montreal or will the North Star Bell ring in the Impact’s favor yet again? Voyons ce qui est en magasin pour les hommes en rouge.
Montreal Form Guide (Last 5 Competitive Matches): L-W-D-W-L
Previous match: A 3-1 away loss to New York Red Bull.
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2; Bush; Oyongo, Ciman, Cabrera, Camara; Donadel, Bernadello, Mallace, Piatti; Drogba, Mancosu
La legend: You didn’t need to read our preview to know this one. Didier Drogba has been phenomenal for Montreal both on and off the field. He’s grown the brand in the city but perhaps more importantly has served as a mentor for a fairly young Impact side. His second MLS career hat trick against Philadelphia a few weeks ago was humbled by praising Ignacio Piatti’s two assists and the work rate of the team. He builds up the confidence of his fellow players and each training session spent with Drogba is worth its weight in gold.
Statistically his 14 appearances have yielded 8 goals and 5 assists (slightly less impactful than his 11 goals and one assist in 11 matches last season) but the space he creates for others cannot go unnoticed. If the likes of Kappelhoff and Campbell repeat this season’s earlier meeting between these two sides then Montreal could very well see another victory on the back of another inspiring performance from the Ivorian. If Didier notches a goal against the Fire it will be his sixth goal in four matches against Chicago. He has scored in every appearance against his former team.
It should be noted however that Drogba might be missing from the match on Saturday. The Montreal Gazette reported that Drogba missed training and a subsequent interview on Thursday due to illness. Mauro Biello commented on the possibility of his absence saying it will be a match time decision but it could be a hopeful note for Chicago.
Che, Che, Che, Che, Che Boludo!:We’re starting to think that playoff contention and Argentine squad members are not unrelated. Montreal has five players from la Plata and their playing style shows it. Aside from Ignacio Piatti and his 13 goals, 5 assists and 61 shots on the season the Impact have also enjoyed positive streaks from the likes of Hernan Bernardello and Lucas Ontivero. Montreal tends to succeed in matches where they can keep the ball moving in midfield and the Argentines are often responsible for that. Powerful counter attacks from the likes of Oduro and Drogba are helpful but most of Montreal’ goals from their five most recent matches have come from buildup play.
Piatti has regularly torn apart defenses this season and all signs point to the same happening on Saturday. Interestingly enough Nacho does not serve as a #10 in the traditional sense. Over the last three matches he has only averaged 14 completed passes per match. His movement and touches are smarter than they are plentiful; he is often in the right place at the right time and his clinical finishing goes a long way.
Croyance: When Mauro Biello first took over this Impact squad last season we noted that the first few performances under the new coach saw a distinct change in direction. Montreal, more than any other club in MLS, has a unique cultural identity surrounding the club and having one of their own at the helm has been refreshing for them. When you add the break throughs and success of locals like Wandrille Lefevre, Anthony Jackson Hamel, David Choiniere and Maxime Crepeau, and a plethora of French speakers there is a sense of unity and belief in this squad. Locker room dynamics can be a tricky thing in soccer but Montreal certainly has some chemistry and a lot of confidence going into the final stretch of the season.
Histoire: Interestingly enough, the away team has never won in this fixture. When you add Chicago’s abysmal away form the chances of the Fire getting anything from this match become slimmer.
Le manque de cohesion: In his midweek press conference Mauro Biello was asked about Montreal’s recent struggles at the back (they have registered just one clean sheet in the last nine matches). His response was candid but worrisome none the less, “there’s a little bit of a lack of cohesion in my back line right now. Laurent has been struggling, working through an injury, it doesn’t help that he was gone for a month and a half (Euro Cup). It hurts the rhythm and the cohesion of the duo”.
Laurent Ciman featured in 27 regular season appearances for Montreal last season and all three of their post season appearances. The Belgique has been a rock at the back for le Impact and his struggles have clearly impacted the team. In their recent loss to New York Ciman’s positioning was suspect to say the least. A few early counters saw Bradley Wright Philips open in space time and time again. Poor passing and a lack of finishing were the only reasons New York didn’t take an early lead.
A through ball in the 22nd highlighted the lack of cohesion as BWP and co. got the timing right before he was hacked down by Victor Cabrera, no PK was necessary as the ball rolled into the net anyway. BWP was at it again less than twenty minutes later as he found space between the back two to head home. The final goal came from a blatant Ciman mistake as well. A cross out wide by New York was headed back into a dangerous area by the center back before Mike Grella squared it to Sean Davis for the final nail in the coffin.
The draw against DC a couple of weeks ago wasn’t much different. A Patrick Mullins service to Tyler Kemp was expertly put away as Ciman and Cabrera might as well have been out on a cigarette break. They were lucky that Montreal’s offense was its usual self and salvaged a point. Even the 5-1 thrashing of Philly wasn’t perfect as a Camara/Cabrera partnership almost let the Union back in the door off of another cross sequence.
As always, there are areas where Chicago can succeed but taking advantage of Montreal’s struggles cannot be just a point on a white board in the locker room. If Chicago remains one dimensional in its attacking attempts they will falter. However, if they can incorporate a mix of strong armed tactics from Solignac against an out of sorts center back pairing, exceptional positioning from Michael DeLeeuw and speed on the wing from Accam then there is success to be had.
Je voudrais un emploi s'il vous plait: In his preview of the Chicago vs. Orlando match Frank Klopas rightly reminded listeners that many of the Fire players are fighting for places in the 2017 squad already. One or two performances in October won’t cut it as Veljko Paunovic will be looking for some consistency through tough circumstances. A desperate man is a dangerous man, or so Chicago will hope…
Les blessures et la congestion du calendrier: Montreal heads into this match with a few injuries and a tough schedule. To add to Drogba’s potential absence Andres Romero has been out for nearly a year with an ACL tear and likely won’t feature until the playoffs, Chicago’s home town hero Harry Shipp is currently nursing a groin strain and is questionable for just his second ever meeting against his boyhood club and Patrice Bernier has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Sure, Montreal has a squad of 28 players but with three matches in a week, schedule congestion could factor into Biello’s lineup choices.
After the match against Chicago, Montreal will face DC United in a midweek home match that could be a battle for solidifying fifth place in the standings before traveling to BMO Field for Canada’s most heated rivalry. You would have to think that Biello rotates the squad this Saturday to optimize his chances in those two crucial matches. We’re grasping at straws here but so is Chicago.
Prediction: 40 is a nice round number. Chicago fights valiantly for those contracts but they fall short in the end. Chicago 1-3 Montreal. Luis Solignac notches his first for Chicago. Drogba continues his dominance of his former club and Piatti adds two in his quest for the golden boot.