Qui sont-ils? Aperçu du Match Contre Montreal
Sloppy. This past weekend the Chicago Fire lost on the road to Columbus Crew SC in a match that was underwhelming to say the least. Both Veljko Paunovic and Michael DeLeeuw expressed frustration at the lack of executing Chicago’s game plan and missing opportunities. Heads went into hands at the final whistle as thoughts of what might have been fluttered underneath a scoreboard that displayed a 3-1 score line in favor of the home team. More indicative than Chicago’s poor away form was the way in which the squad cracked under pressure, a common feature in bigger games this season. Whether it be Open Cup matches, heated rivalry encounters, or fixtures against the better teams in the league, the Fire have shown time and time again that there is something slightly off in their performances when it really matters.
Unfortunately, they won’t have much time to reflect on the source of the problem or to come up with a solution as the fixture list continues to pile up. In what is perhaps the most important week of the season so far, Chicago will have a quick turnaround and head north of the border to face the Montreal Impact on Wednesday (6:30 CT on CSN Chicago) before hosting league leading Toronto at Toyota Park on Saturday.
Their midweek Quebecois opponent is within touching distance of playoffs after a resurgence over the last month and a fixture that might have been a side note on the calendar has quickly turned into a tricky affair. Mauro Biello has developed into quite the coach over the last few seasons, dispelling any lingering rumors about his familial status being his only qualification for the job. He has found a way to blend high profile international players with a core of Quebec natives and MLS veterans to lead Montreal to the Eastern Conference Semi-Final and Final in consecutive years. With that trajectory, Wednesday’s match should not be taken lightly by Chicago. Will the Impact continue their climb in the standings, or will the Fire’s quality shine through in a must win match? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Montreal Form Guide (last five league matches): W-W-L-L-W
Previous Result: A 3-0 away win against Philadelphia.
Formation: 4-3-3; Bush; Lovitz, Ciman, Cabrera, Duvall; Dzemaili, Piette, Bernier; Piatti, Mancosu, Oduro
Forces: This is the second of three regular season meetings scheduled between these two sides and Montreal will feel confident of taking three points at home after earning a 2-2 draw at Toyota Park in April. Last time out we discussed the Impact’s efficiency on the wings with Dominic Oduro and Nacho Piatti expertly running the channels to stretch back lines, Matteo Mancosu’s clinical finishing ability, and Montreal’s desperation to win matches. All of those remain as central strengths but let’s see where else they might succeed.
C'est Génial d'Avoir des Connexions: There are many things to be said about having Joey Saputo as the owner of your team. One thing is for sure, he certainly doesn’t lack confidence when it comes to making signings (having the money to back up that confidence doesn’t hurt either). Didier Drogba aside, the Impact are not known for signing super stars frequently but have consistently shown that they can scout upper level talent and sell them on the city and lifestyle that Saputo’s wallet offers. In a window that was relatively quiet elsewhere Montreal managed to sign Canadian International Samuel Piette from CD Izarra in Spain’s Segunda Division after he spent time in the German and French second divisions. The transfer was not earth shattering by any means but bringing home a skilled Quebecois player paid dividends in his very first match. Seemingly a long-term replacement for Patrice Bernier, he shined against Philadelphia completing 91% of his passes, adding twenty successful defensive interventions, and winning the respect of his teammates by earning a yellow card to stop a CJ Sapong counter late in the match.
In addition to Piette, Saputo’s ownership of Italian Serie A club Bologna secured the services of Montenegrin midfielder Blerim Dzemaili. Dzemaili arrived ahead of the scheduled opening of the summer transfer window. His European pedigree speaks for itself (Napoli, Parma, Genoa, Zurich, and Galatasaray just to name a few) and he hasn’t needed much time to adjust to MLS. Six goals and five assists in his first twelves matches is quite the haul for someone who was brought in to help control the midfield. Dzemaili’s late arriving runs will need to be dealt with by the likes of McCarty and Schweinsteiger, no easy task given that they will often be occupied elsewhere.
Avec une pass de Piatti: This is perhaps the most frequently heard phrase on the home broadcasts of Montreal matches and there is good reason for it. We won’t dwell on Piatti too much given our focus on him earlier this year but he continues to be a thorn in the side of opposition defenders. Piatti’s blend of reading game scenarios properly, his technical ability, quick bursts of speed, and superb finishing make him particularly dangerous for a Fire back line that has struggled with counterattacks recently. With the outside backs so far advanced for Chicago and their tendency to control possession in the very center of the pitch, any balls given up by the Fire midfield will be punished by the Argentine.
Two of Montreal’s three goals game in transition against Philadelphia last weekend and the third came off of a PK on the back of another break away. Unsurprisingly, Piatti took part in all three goals, finishing the evening on ten goals and four assists on the season. While those statistics are not necessarily reflective of last year’s form, the space he creates for others to work in is priceless (the numbers are also skewed given Piatti missed a significant number of matches through injury this season). Unlike other MLS midfield maestros that hail from La Plata, Piatti’s role is not always one of puppeteer. Yes, he has the ability to pull the strings from a deeper role, but Biello utilizes him as a wide player that terrorizes right backs with his ability to cut inside and pick out a final pass or finish from distance. Matt Polster will need to quickly bounce back from his performance against Columbus if Chicago is to leave Quebec with anything.
L'horloge crée un désespoir: When these sides faced each other in April, Montreal was desperate to notch a win because they had failed to do so in their first three encounters of the season. This time around, desperation stems from the quickly approaching final match of the season. After Saturday’s encounter Montreal will only have eleven matches remaining on the calendar including three fixtures against rivals and MLS high flyers TFC. Anything less than three points in their remaining home matches will certainly cause them to miss out on the playoffs. The motivation to win will not be lacking in the first of four consecutive must win home matches for the Impact.
Faiblesses: Most teams do not find themselves in seventh place by accident and Montreal is no different. They are currently digging themselves out of the Eastern Conference basement after an uncharacteristically poor start to the season. Whether it was a hangover from the Drogba fiasco, an ever-aging squad, or a shift in formation that caused their beleaguered start, they’ve been making it up ever since. Last time we discussed mental lapses, injuries, and strange Cameroonian voodoo as weaknesses, let’s see what will impact their chances this time.
Qui a besoin de défenseurs? One of the first things that jumps out when looking at Montreal in the standings is the thirty-seven goals that they have conceded on the season. The only team in playoff contention that has given up more goals is Columbus and if Montreal is to find a way above the red line, they will need to stop the leakiness of their back line. They have conceded three or more goals on seven occasions across all competitions this season, a worrying sight for anyone with the tactical demands of Biello.
The aging Lauren Ciman cannot seem to keep up with the pace of MLS as well as he used to upon arriving to the league, Victor Cabrera is showing why River Plate was so eager to let him go after initially loaning him to Montreal, and Ambroise Oyongo’s season ending injury while on international duty is a travesty for the Quebecois outfit. Chris Duvall has not adequately risen to the challenge of filling in for the youngster on either side of the ball and Daniel Lovitz’s presence on the backline is more a product of MLS’ salary cap than it is a product of his skill. Although David Accam is dangerous against any side, with Dzemaili supporting the front three and Patrice Bernier being on the wrong side of thirty-seven, the back line is even more exposed in transition.
Profondeur de l'équipe: As the fixture list for both sides piles up, squad rotation will be of concern on Wednesday. Montreal is not exactly the league’s deepest squad and they might struggle with juggling minutes amongst their fringe players. They have already found it difficult to call on their bench throughout the season, most recently against the Red Bulls. They rested starters Evan Bush, Piatti, Oduro, and Mancosu in that encounter and were thumped 4-0 by New York. They conceded almost 70% of the possession as their midfield was over ran by Sacha Kljestan, Alex Muyl, and Felipe throughout the entirety of the match. With a new look RSL coming into town on Saturday and heavy legs from their flight home from Philadelphia this past weekend, the Impact will have some personnel decisions to make in this one.
Montréal est un lieu Magique: Last but certainly not least, we cannot forget that Stade Saputo was the site where Chicago ended their away losing streak last season. The 3-0 thrashing last August set right a period of over two years where the Fire could not manage a victory away from home. Paunovic and his charges will be hoping that they’ll get lucky in Montreal two years in a row. Adding to their chances will be the Impact’s questionable home form which has seen them lose three times this season at Stade Saputo. This tally means they have dropped more home points than any of the six teams ahead of them in the standings. If they miss out on the post season they’ll certainly be kicking themselves for not capitalizing in front of their own faithful.
Prediction: The stakes will be high for both sides and it will make for a cagey affair. Chicago cannot afford to lose but their away form does not inspire confidence. The pressure will pile on for the Fire as they enter the TFC match on the back of another frustrating result on the road. Chicago 1-1 Montreal. Nikolic finally gets on the score sheet again for the Fire and Piatti puts one away from the spot for the Impact.