The Fire may have a different look on the pitch with Brian Bliss at the helm. They’ll face Didier Drogba again after a defensive fiasco a few weeks ago. Martin Tomszak is back with another Impact preview.
C’est la Fin des Haricots: La Troisième Rencontre avec Montréal
And then there were none. The first time Chicago and Montreal met this season it was the battle of the Franks with Frank Klopas returning home with les Blues to take on Frank Yallop and the Fire. Chicago won that first match on May 30 by a 3-0 scoreline. Then, shortly before their second meeting Klopas was fired by Montreal and Le Impact found themselves under the care of interim coach Mauro Biello and on the right end of a 4-3 victory that included a Didier Drogba hat trick (oh how he celebrated against his former team). This Wednesday the teams meet for the third and final time this season when Chicago heads to the land of poutine and separatist pride, this time without Yallop who was let go this past Sunday.
It’s the battle of the interim coaches! Will the newly appointed Brian Bliss lead the Fire to their first road victory of the season, or will Biello take his second Chicago scalp in as many weeks?
Montreal Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): W-D-D-W-L
Previous match: A 3-0 home victory over New England.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1; Bush; Toia, Ciman, Cabrera, Miller; Donadel, Mallace; Romero, Piatti, Vanegas; Drogba
Strengths: The last time we previewed Le Impact they were in such dire straits that we decided to start with an extended weaknesses section. Boy were we wrong to do that. The phrase “Didier Drogba surely isn’t match fit” was used and we were made to eat our words as he hit the back of the net on three occasions. It proved to be a turning point as Montreal has been undefeated in four matches, including an impressive trip to the West coast that saw them gain draws against San Jose and LA with a weakened line up. Let’s take a look at exactly what has been clicking for the Quebecois.
L’enfance de l’art: Let’s face it, once Drogba decided on Montreal there wasn’t even a remote chance that he was going to end up in Chicago. All of the hoopla surrounding the possibility in the last few days before the decision was made public was meant to garner as much allocation money as possible for Chicago and to a certain extent that worked. However, Montreal won’t care one bit as Drogba has ignited their hopes. Bienvenu indeed. He has to be the focus of the strengths section as you look at the last four matches.
In the match against Chicago, Drogba’s first in front of the Montreal faithful, it was do or die for both teams and the Ivorian cleared up any doubt over his commitment and ability to still play quality soccer. Aside from the hat trick, he registered seven shots, worked on both sides of the ball as he recovered possession in the middle of the pitch on several occasions, slowed up play by garnering a few tactical fouls as Chicago looked to break, and created set piece opportunities by drawing fouls seemingly out of nothing.
Against LA he led the line in a match that on paper, Montreal deserved nothing from, and yet the Impact stayed organized and left the home of the defending champions with a point. They could have left with more had Drogba finished his chance in the 87th minute, but it was a success nonetheless and one that seemed unimaginable a few weeks earlier.
Drogba sat out the match against San Jose, likely due to the quick four day turn around, but Montreal played with an air of confidence that hadn’t really been seen up until that point of the season. Perhaps Drogba has had an influence on the club that goes beyond his minutes on the pitch? We think so. He returned against New England where he notched a goal and an assist in the victory over the Revolution, a team that had gone undefeated in eight matches leading up to the encounter. With four goals in three matches and seven games remaining for the Impact, you have to wonder if Drogba can hit double digit goals even before the post season. Look for him to notch at least one on Wednesday.
Confiance: The confidence alluded to above has to be singled out and highlighted as another strength. Since Drogba joined the squad and Biello took over there seems to be a bit of swagger surrounding this Montreal side. Whether it’s the team unity shown in celebrating goals, a bit of inter-team banter on social media, or the cheeky shot attempts and FIFA like passes that the Impact have exhibited in the past four matches it is clear that morale is high. Biello has utilized virtually the same line up with the same formation and similar tactics that Montreal has had all season, but with drastically different results. The difference has to be the feeling around the dressing room, and that Drogba guy.
Knowing that a victory against the Fire and another victory against Orlando in two weeks virtually ensures a play-off spot will also be a boost for the Impact. The confidence exhibited by Montreal will be compounded by the fact that Chicago has dropped three in a row and will be looking to integrate a new philosophy on the fly. All signs point to Montreal getting another win over a struggling Chicago side.
Weaknesses: Usually not much can be offered in the category of weaknesses for any team playing against Chicago. This time around it is a little bit different. With Brian Bliss being very vocal in training and Logan Pause being seen putting his arm around the shoulders of some of the younger guys for a quick chat, it’s possible that a new approach will help. Things have been stagnant, even toxic recently but that won’t be the case on Wednesday.
While playoffs are done and dusted, there is no better way to motivate players than with a change in leadership. Under the guidance of Pause and Bliss the current roster will not only be fighting for pride and for one another, but also for spots on next year’s roster. This could be a scary thing for Montreal as some players will need to be ruthless to ensure that they stick around for next season.
Streaky: While Drogba’s arrival has signaled a turnaround for Montreal, there are reasons why pundits around the league still doubt their ability to finish above the red line despite their three games in hand. The other ten players on the field have been inconsistent all season long. Losses in the Champions League final and the Canadian Championship final have left a bitter feeling in the mouths of players and fans alike but those losses have also raised questions of Montreal’s ability to get things done in adverse situations. Team leaders like Ignacio Piatti, Laurent Ciman, and Nigel Reo-Coker have all hit streaks of bad form at inopportune times throughout the campaign, and fringe players have failed to step up and rise to the occasion when that happens. Dominic Oduro’s glaring miss against Toronto at the end of August is the perfect example. Confidence may be high, but the Impact have really had a series of ups and downs this season and you never know what you’ll get when you watch them play.
Missing Players: Kenny Cooper and Cameron Porter remain on the long term injury list, while Patrice Bernier has resumed training after a foot injury but is unlikely to play. Justin Mapp was taken off with a toe contusion early in the match against LA and has not made the 18 since. Yellow card magnet Marco Donadel picked up a red against New England and will miss the match thru suspension, but at this point Montreal is used to finding a replacement for the holding midfielder. Ambroise Oyongo’s ridiculous and violent tackle on Matias Perez Garcia in the San Jose match means he will join Donadel for beignets in the stands on Wednesday.
Prediction: If the Fire take three points in this match, they know they will have to win all four remaining matches and pray results go their way to make the playoffs. Lloyd Christmas thinks this can happen. Chicago will hold onto hope and win on the road the first time this season: Chicago 3-1 Montreal.
David Accam will become the first Designated Player in Chicago Fire history to score double digit goals in a single season with a brace, and Kennedy Igboananike will continue his surge for a spot next season by adding the third! Oh yeah, and that Drogba guy with a goal for the Impact.