Know Your Enemy: Montreal Impact - Meeting The Second

Oh, it's you again, so be it.

The good news: this is a chance at a fresh start in a competition that has seen Toronto FC undefeated - somewhat controversially - since 2009 - not really controversially, but throw Vancouver a bone - pot stirred.

The bad: Montreal has gotten better since the clubs last met at the beginning of April.

Wednesday night the 2012 edition of the Voyageur's Cup - Amway Canadian Championship, to be official - kicks off as TFC heads up the 401 - more appropriately; flies high above the 401 - to take on Montreal.

This will be the second of five meetings this season and the first of two legs in a week; a chance for the fledgling rivalry to really take wing.

A handful of Torontonians will be embarking on the short - relatively speaking - journey to cheer on the Reds as the quest to defend their title and kick start their floundering season in a new competition begins.

TFC has done remarkably well in cup clashes, but what awaits them in La Belle Ville?

Recent Form

Since the clubs last met - a 2-1 win for Montreal - the Impact have been spurred on, collecting points in two of their last three matches.

Now seems as good a time as any to refer back to the original scouting report - the Tactics section in particular.

Most of what was stated still holds true, Montreal has stuck to the 4-2-3-1, more-or-less.

As with all modern teams the formation adapts to the run of play. The back four is relatively stable: Shavar Thomas and Matteo Ferrari forming a stable, reliable central pairing with full-backs - Tyson Wahl and Zarek Valentin - free to get forward on occasion.

Two central midfielders - Felipe Martins and Collen Warner - sit deep, sporadically getting forward in attack and unleashing shots from distance.

The wide midfielders - Justin Mapp and Davy Arnaud - are sound defensively; closing down the wings to the opposition, while cutting in-field to increase the numbers in attack and create space for the overlapping full-backs.

Sanna Nyassi plays the decisive central chameleon role. At times he will be level with the centre-forward Bernardo Corradi, functioning as an equal striker, at others he will run off the shoulder of Corradi, to function as a second striker, using his speed to attack balls sent into the wide areas. Defensively he takes on more responsibilities than the average striker, tracking back, tucking into the central hole in the midfield to increase the numbers in that section of the pitch.

This more flexible structure made its debut for Montreal in their 1-0 loss at Salt Lake three days before their initial meeting with Toronto. The two-man anchor in the midfield has stabilized a shaky defense - compare ten goals conceded in the first four matches - a straight 4-4-2 - with five in the next five matches under the new setup.

A 2-1 loss in Dallas, precipitated by a collapse in the final fifteen minutes - goals to Blas Perez and Brek Shea, after Corradi had put them ahead from the spot, following an innocuous challenge from Zach Loyd on Arnaud, which the Italian striker dedicated to his fallen friend and former teammate Piermario Morosini - was followed by a 1-1 draw in DC, taking the lead for a second straight match only to relinquish points under subsequent pressure - Corradi again put them ahead with a back-post header from a Lamar Neagle cross, but Maicon Santos equalized three minutes later with a low shot from distance.

Most recently it culminated in a 2-0 win over Portland on Saturday that was somewhat fortuitous; the match turned when Nyassi left a late boot in on Timbers keeper Troy Perkins, who was forced to leave the pitch with what appeared to be a broken and bloodied nose.

A debatable handball call on recently acquired left-back Steve Smith opened the scoring, before Sinisa Ubiparipovic tapped a well-placed Arnaud cross into an empty net for the insurance to seal the result.

Montreal currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference on eight points after nine matches.

Projected Lineup

Since the tactical switch manager Jesse Marsch has run a very consistent starting eleven, bar the occasional tinker. Arnaud has fulfilled the second striker's role normally taken on by Nyassi with Mapp switching to the right flank opening a spot for Neagle on the left.

However, determining what his motivations are going into the Voyageur's Cup is a difficult matter.

The club has publicly stated that success in the competition and CONCACAF Champions League is a point of emphasis, taking pride in recalling their run in the competition in 2008 that saw them reach the quarterfinals against Santos Laguna and perhaps caused MLS mouths to salivate at the potential of a French-Canadian addition when fifty-thousand-plus were trotted out to Stade Olympique for the home leg.

In virtually the same breath, Marsch has stated that due to the upcoming fixture congestion - six matches in May, four in ten days starting with Wednesday evening - he would be using the full extent of - what he considers to be - a deep squad, while also declaring that they would be going with a lot of the regular guys on Wednesday.

A bit of mind games to throw off the scent of any TFC scouts - as if they watched opponents before playing them anyways - bravado or hiding in plain sight?

In an attempt to outwit the contradictory statements, again taking a bit of a flier - the predicted lineup for the last meeting was woeful, worst to date in fact - expect to see a new face in goal, likely Evan Bush, though former TFC keeper Greg Sutton could don the gloves; an unchanged central defensive pairing - Thomas and Ferrari - with new full-backs Jeb Brovsky and Josh Gardner on the right and left respectively; Canadian Patrice Bernier will surely take up a position in centre of midfield, paired most likely with Martins who has grown into his role in the league; Neagle should take Mapp's - who was removed from the Portland match with a bit of hamstring bother - position on the left, with Ubiparipovic - who did so well against Toronto - stationed on the right and Arnaud, moved into the centre to fulfill Nyassi's role; with Corradi, irreplaceable - in a like-for-like manner - up top.

football formations

For an expansion side, Montreal does have a fair amount of depth. Highly thought of rookies, Andrew Wenger, Calum Mallace and Gienir Garcia are yet to prominently feature, as with midfielder Bryan Arguez, defender Hassoun Camara, and forward Miguel Montano.

Justin Braun has been out of favour riding the pine - appearing once as a substitute and once out of the eighteen all together.

Montano, Garcia, and Braun are currently nursing injury, while latest reports have Valentin missing the match for similar reasons.

Colombian and former Inter Milan defender Nelson Rivas took to the pitch on Sunday for sixty minutes in a friendly against Dartmouth College, but is unlikely to feature in this match.

Marsch is faced with the choice of either attempting to press the home advantage with a first-choice lineup to grab the result and bunker down in the second leg with reserves; utilize the home field to trot out an experimental eleven and count on the regulars in Toronto; or a bit of both.

The projected lineup cuts down the middle, maintaining a strong spine from the regular side, while giving several of the more active runners a rest in preparation for the trip to Kansas City on Saturday.

Last Meeting

Toronto was very disjointed in the last meeting between clubs; the long travel from Mexico, the disappointment with that result, and the peculiarities of the comical pitch in Montreal combined to stifle their early play.

Montreal's first goal came when Terry Dunfield and Julian de Guzman could not get the ball to settle in their own half, resulting in a turnover - Neagle taking it off Dunfield's foot and feeding Ubiparipovic who slotted a low shot past Milos Kocic.

With some familiarity to the conditions they enter, TFC could use the quick surface to their advantage, if their passing remains as precise as it was at times in Salt Lake.

The long travel from the Rocky Mountains and desolation from yet another loss will be of some concern, but as mentioned, this is a new competition, a fresh beginning to turn around the season.

Toronto had their fair share of chances in the first leg; were it not for a few goal-line clearances and a fantastic save from Donovan Ricketts - making himself big to block a point blank header to deny Danny Koevermans - the result could have been very different.

Montreal's second goal came from a long diagonal ball from Mapp on the right springing Andrew Wenger and putting him in isolation with Ty Harden. The Toronto defender actually won the initial ball, but did not deal with it well enough, leaving an opening for Wenger to gain possession and place a shot low across Kocic into the far-netting.

Despite being down a man Toronto fought back admirably; Koevermans grabbing a goal to break his duck after getting in front of Valentin to head Reggie Lambe's right-sided cross to the six-yard box down, back across the keeper.

Montreal is susceptible to being chased down after having taken the lead - a flaw they have discussed quite a bit. The two-goals allowed in Dallas and the lone strike in DC resulting in them dropping five points that could have been theirs. Even if Toronto falls behind, they must stick to the plan and seek out their own chances. The Away Goals rule is in effect, making scoring in Montreal advantageous.

Bullet Points

Montreal have never beaten TFC in the Canadian Championships, amassing a record of five losses and a single draw. They have lost all three meetings in Montreal, including the memorable 1-6 match in 2009.

Montreal has been involved in the most penalty kicks in the league, five. Though their fortunes have turned after conceding three they have since been awarded two.

The Impact have committed the most fouls as a club (one-hundred-and-thirty-seven) and has two players in the top nine - Martins (twenty-two) and Nyassi (seventeen). Arnaud, on the other hand, has suffered the second-most in the league (twenty). Nyassi and Corradi are both amongst the league leaders in offsides (twelve and nine, respectively) helping to put Montreal in the league lead with thirty-one.

It emerged last week that Corradi is only on a short contract with the club, set to expire on June 30th.

You can find more of James Grossi’s insightful ramblings over at Partially Obstructed View and follow him on twitter @Grawsee

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