Fire v Impact match preview

Qui sont-ils? Aperçu du Match Contre Montreal

Momentum halted. This past Wednesday the Chicago Fire lost to NYCFC at Yankee stadium by a score of 1-0. An early goal for the hosts proved to be enough to stifle what could have been a turning point for Veljko Paunovic and the Fire. The tally itself was not an impressive piece of attacking action but rather a reiteration of Chicago’s defensive struggles as the backline looked more like a piece of cubist art than an organized unit. Additionally, injuries and illness for Aleksandar Katai and Johan Kappelhof respectively tested an already thin squad and forced the Fire to introduce Przemyslaw Frankowski and Jorge Corrales as substitutes despite their long-term absences from training. All in all, it was a forgettable ninety minutes for everyone in red other than David Ousted whose last-minute penalty save hinted at some sort of parity between the sides.

Dropping points is never a good thing but this particular result may have served an extra dose of reality after a fall from above the playoff line. The win over Colorado is firmly in the rearview mirror as those points are looking more and more like a product of the Rapids’ deficiencies and not the Fire’s potential, the Jekyll and Hyde show continues. Chicago will have another chance to revitalize their season this Sunday as they take on the Montreal Impact (11:30 CT on ESPN+).

Montreal, on the other hand, is seemingly coming good on their gamble to bring in Remi Garde last season as the Impact find themselves second in the East. Tactical solidity, an ethos of fighting for one another, and a youth revival have come to typify the Quebecois outfit under the Frenchman. Moreover, a victory over the Fire could see them jump into pole position in the conference at the start of what looks to be an easy few weeks for the side. Will the Fire’s woes on the road continue or can they shock the hosts North of the border? Voyons ce qui est en magasin pour les Hommes en Rouge.

Montreal Form Guide: W-L-W-D-D

Previous Result: A 3-0 away win over New England.

Formation: 4-3-3; Bush; Lovitz, Diallo, Cabrera, Brault-Guillard; Shome, Piette, Azira; Okwonkwo, Urruti, Bayiha

Forces: It isn’t difficult to assess the strengths of a side currently sitting second in the East. This ease only heightens when you consider that they have kept four clean sheets in their last five matches and have looked exceptional going forward as well. Let’s see where they might succeed this weekend.

Adossé au Mur: The fact that this Impact side sits in second in the East is a minor miracle. They’ve played all but one match on the road, they’ve been missing their star player and captain since the second week of the season, and by MLS standard’s they’ve spent far less on their roster than the average table toppers. A large part of their success is due to the hard-working nature of their squad. What they lack in star power—they have just two DPs and two TAM players—they make up for in grit and work rate. At an average age of twenty-six—skewed slightly by Bakary Sagna’s thirty-six-year-old veteran presence—this Impact side is among the youngest in the league. The pressure to prove themselves has been a positive factor as Garde’s experience with the youth ranks of Lyon has proven pivotal in helping them transition to professional life. This stamp of identity is only extended when you realize that the Frenchman has had a hand in picking around 75% of this current Montreal squad. They have a firm belief in his system and his players seem to be motivated to reward Garde’s faith in them. All of this makes for a dangerously motivated side.

Mortel sur le comptoir: Remi Garde’s youthful revolution utilizes both Impact academy products and players brought in from his and Joel Bats’ time in France. The result has been quick and technically skilled play on the counter through the likes of Orji Okwonkwo, Celment Bayiha, and Anthony Jackson-Hamel supported by hard tackles and quick distribution through Samuel Piette and Michael Azira in midfield. Two of Montreal’s three midweek goals came on the counter and they also hit both the bar and the post on two other occasions. This style of attack was the norm against Philadelphia as well, even if it did not result in goals. The Fire can expect to be lulled to sleep by an absorption minded Montreal side and tested in transition with a particularly weak outside back pairing pressured by the quick wide men of Garde’s 4-3-3. If Schweinsteiger and Marcelo have a repeat performance of mental lapses and an inability to deal with aerial balls in behind, the score line could get away from them quickly. 

Faiblesses: Parity is typical in MLS, but the word takes on extensive meaning when second and eighth are still separated by just five points a quarter of the way through the season. While DC United has shown flashes of brilliance here and there, the Eastern Conference does not have an out-and-out “best” side. Let’s see where second place Montreal might struggle this weekend.

Que voulez-vous dire "défense"?: Of the fourteen teams currently sitting in a playoff spot, only Minnesota United has conceded more goals than Montreal. With fourteen tallies allowed and eleven scored, the Impact sit on a goal differential of negative three, a trajectory which is less than ideal for a coach who prides himself on stability. Granted, half of that total came in one match against Sporting Kansas City, but there have been times throughout the campaign where Montreal has looked shaky at the back.

This is particularly evident against sides that can stretch the field of play both vertically and horizontally. Those aforementioned shutouts came against sides that simply failed to take advantage of the width of the pitch. Sure, Montreal responded to that SKC blow out by setting up in a low and narrow block in recent matches but that means that for the second time this week Chicago will face a side that has weaknesses which accentuates the Fire’s strengths. If Frankowski is risked on the wing again and if CJ Sapong continues his strong run of form, Nicolas Gaitan will be able to break lines and spread play in ways that Montreal struggles with. The aging legs of Sagna and Lovitz’s bizarre mental lapses as he ventures forward could prove to be the hosts’ downfall this weekend.

Nous sommes fatigués et blesses: We are reaching the first schedule hurdles in MLS as sides begin to create breathing room for international breaks this summer. Montreal, in particular, is affected by scheduling in a unique way given that they elected to play their first six matches away from home to accommodate the adverse weather Quebec experiences at the start of the league’s fixture list. Although they will benefit from a flurry of home matches, they also face the reality of playing seven matches in twenty-eight days between April and May.

With an encounter every four days, even the deepest squads would be tested, but when you add the fact that club captain and Designated Player Ignacio Piatti is out with a long term knee injury, many of Montreal’s youngsters are still learning the ropes of being a professional, and the Impact underwent a bizarre twenty-four hours of delayed flights leading into their midweek match, this weekend may be trying indeed.

Prediction: We aren’t sure what to make of this Fire side. There are moments where they show themselves to be more than the sum of their parts and there are other times where they struggle against subpar opposition. Perhaps it all evens out in the end… Chicago 2-2 Montreal. CJ Sapong and Nemanja Nikolic for the visitors. Maxi Urruti and Samuel Piette for the hosts.

Filed under: 2019 Regular Season

Tags: Chicago Fire

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