Qui sont-ils? Aperçu du Match Contre Montreal
Après moi, le deluge. This past weekend the Chicago Fire lost a seventh consecutive MLS match, extending a franchise record which now finds them rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Chicago’s points per game ratio under the guidance of the current regime has now dropped to 1.15 PPG over the last three years. Whatever other methods may be employed to pass judgement on the Process, the PPG total under Nelson Rodriguez/Veljko Paunovic is among the worst such totals across the league since the duo took over. In fact, only Orlando City (1.08) and San Jose (1.05) have a worse PPG ratio over that same period. Whether they’d like to admit it or not, the Fire are certainly out of the playoff picture and can only hope to avoid another embarrassing record at the end of the season. They will look to stop the bleeding against Montreal this weekend at Stade Saputo (6:30 CT on ESPN+).
The Impact head into this fixture holding onto the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, albeit with their nearest competitors having a few matches in hand on the Quebecois side. We’ve previewed Remi Garde and his charges on two separate occasions this year—once in preseason and once in May—but his first season in charge has been one of constant evolution. While it is difficult to adjust to MLS’ schedule congestion, travel, roster constraints, and style of play, anything less than a playoff berth will be considered a failure for an Impact side that has made significant investments in the club’s infrastructure, technical staff, and roster over the last twelve months. Montreal has made the playoffs just twice since joining the league in 2012 and Joey Saputo’s decision to step away from Mauro Biello towards the end of last season can only be justified by a successful run over the final nine matches of the season. Will Paunovic be able to ruin Garde’s honeymoon in the land of poutine, or will Chicago be forced to face reality? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Montreal Form Guide (All Competitions): D-D-L-L-D
Previous Result: A 1-1 away draw with RSL.
Formation: 4-3-3; Bush; Lovitz, Camacho, Cabrera, Raitala; Taider, Piette, Krolicki; Piatti, Mancosu, Silva
Forces: The last time these two sides met we applauded Remi Garde’s tactical astuteness, Nacho Piatti’s influence, and their ability to get in behind the defense. All three of those remain strengths but let’s see where else they might succeed on Saturday.
Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid: When Montreal decided to make a change in the club’s direction by hiring Garde as well as Maxence Flachez and Joel Bats, everyone knew it was going to take some time for them to settle in. We believed that a wealth of experience in France’s Ligue 1 would eventually translate to success in MLS as well and the coaching trio has not let us down.
After a fairly experimental first three months—we noted nine different line ups/tactical set ups in our last preview—Garde has settled in on a 4-3-3 system. Specifically, one in which the front three are allowed freedom to roam and interchange positions on the field while the midfield utilizes a mixed tactic of Piette and Krolicki serving as anchors while Taider functions as an out and out winger. Behind those two lines, the back four is fairly conservative by MLS standards with Raitala and Lovitz not venturing forward as much as other wingbacks in the league (as a small proof of this, 78% of the duos attempted passes in their last three matches together have come from within their own half).
All of this is to say that Garde and his team are finally gelling together and creating not only a system that they are implementing consistently, but an identity divorced from that of seasons past. With the arrival of several new players (see below) and rumors suggesting that Garde could bring in Claudio Marchisio after the midfielder’s recent transition to free agency, the Impact have really turned a new leaf in their history.
Magie Marocaine: As a part of this new identity, Joey Saputo utilized his Bologna connections to bring over a young Moroccan international to solidify the midfield. Saphir Taider’s loan from the Serie A outfit largely came in response to Blerim Dzemaili wanting to return to Europe but the switch has not only ensured that the Impact have gotten younger, the Moroccan brings a much different skill set to the table.
With five goals, four assists, and a team leading sixty-four shots, Taider offers much more going forward than his predecessor. Additionally, over the last three matches, Taider has really showcased his ability on the ball completing—84% of his passes with an average of two key passes per game—while also contributing defensively—averaging thirteen defensive stops over those encounters. He is a true two-way player and perhaps hasn’t gotten the praise that he deserves from MLS pundits. Another strong showing against the Fire could relaunch that conversation. Although Taider has European ambitions, the Algerian DP definitely sees this season with the Impact as a stepping stone towards relaunching a career that has seen him feature for Bologna, Inter Milan, and Southampton. That is a dangerous motivation.
Allez Allez Bacary: The end of the summer window saw the Impact make a number of acquisitions to bolster their squad. Wantaway striker Dominic Oduro was sent to San Jose in exchange for league workman Quincy Amarikwa, while Michael Azira added some much-needed defensive midfield depth. Those two in-league moves were overshadowed by a much bigger international signing. The Impact announced early last week that they had secured the signature of former Arsenal and Manchester City left back Bacary Sagna.
Although Sagna is now thirty-five, his ability on the ball, positioning, and leadership qualities speak for themselves. Oh yeah, and he’s managed to win the French Cup, FA Cup, and the Premier League. Whether or not Garde utilizes him frequently or sparingly, at left back or as a converted center back, Sagna brings a wealth of experience with him, experience that Montreal will need if they are to make a push for the playoffs.
Faiblesses: Montreal has crossed the threshold of the red line more than any other club in the Eastern Conference and their chances of a post-season berth hang in the balance yet again heading into Saturday’s fixture. Let’s see where they might struggle.
La forteresse est sur la colline, pas au Stade Saputo: If you frequently read our previews you’ll notice that we like to bring up obscure facts. Well, in a sport where home form is a must in any attempt at silverware, the Impact are atrocious when it comes to playing in Ville-Marie. This campaign has seen them lose at home on four occasions already (more than any other side currently in a playoff position) and such a run continues a bizarre streak. Last season saw them lose eight at home (bested only by LA’s nine losses) and 2016 saw them drop a conference five in front of their own faithful. Additionally, Chicago has had some recent luck playing in Montreal, winning at Stade Saputo last year, and thumping the hosts 3-0 in 2016 to end a two-year winless streak on the road. Perhaps the stars will align once again for the Fire.
Nous n'aimons pas marquer, ni defender: Perhaps one of the strangest anomalies surrounding this Impact side is their goal differential. At negative ten, Montreal’s ratio is the lowest among current play off teams. Unsurprisingly, they have also conceded more than any current side above the red line and they, along with Columbus, have scored the fewest goals among those teams. Having failed to score on eight separate occasions is certainly part of the problem, but allowing late goals has also been particularly damning for the Quebecois outfit. One thing is for sure, Chicago will be presented with plenteous opportunities to score and if Schweinsteiger is utilized as a center back, they might just squeak by with a result.
Le calendrier ne ment pas: While the Impact have not had nearly as bad of a recent run as Chicago, Remi Garde and his men are winless in their last five competitive matches. In a league where teams can coast through the first three or four months of the season before needing to turn it on, Montreal has seemingly gotten the formula wrong. Teams that are hot from August to October not only tend to make the playoffs (due to a more congested schedule and the tendency to play intraconference matches), but also stand a good chance of turning momentum into deep post season runs. Montreal may have the pieces to succeed but they cannot afford to just stumble across the line. Knowing that more dropped points at home could signal the end of their hopes, the Impact will be playing with almost as much pressure as Chicago in this one.
Prediction: There’s no way around it. This Chicago side is bad and has lost belief. Montreal’s necessity for three points pushes them over the edge in this one. Impact 3-1 Fire. Taider, Piatti, and Mancosu for the hosts. Alan Gordon for the visitors.