And finally the end is nigh.
It has been a grueling season in TFC-land - one of many such misadventures in the long-short history of the club.
One more match to be played, and despite the underwhelming nature of the campaign, Saturday looks to be an entertaining end.
It has been some time since a match actually meant something, but this one does.
Matches against Toronto’s eternal rivals, whether they be in soccer or tiddlywinks, are always interesting endeavours and this one is primed to be special.
The Impact may have wrapped up top spot in the seeding for next years Voyageurs Cup; the playoffs on the other hand are still not assured.
They need to win; a draw may suffice, even a loss could see them into the post-season, but that would require other results to go their way.
The chance to play spoiler is often overblown. No team wants to be out of the running so early as to rely on such vapours to feed the ego, but still, the sweet wafts of a defeated Impact missing the playoffs at the hands of Toronto would be a promising appetizer to head into an off-season of uncertainty somewhat satiated.
After meeting four times through the first five months of the season it has now been nearly four months since the last meeting – things have changed, but not that much.
For one last time in 2013, a closer look at the enemy, the Montreal Impact, is in order.
Marco Schallibaum’s first season in charge of the side has been a rollercoaster ride – surging to the top of the table through the opening phase of the season, only to go into a free-fall with the advent of summer to settle into their current predicament in the midst of the playoff crunch.
Through their first fifteen matches Montreal had won nine and drawn two, but then a 3-4 loss against Colorado and that wild 3-3 draw in Toronto began their slide – that two-game winless streak stretched to five with a draw against Chivas (1-1), a heavy loss in New York (4-0), and another home draw against Dallas (0-0).
They would arrest the streak with a 1-0 result over Kansas City, only to follow that with away losses at lowly DC (3-1), and Colorado (2-1).
Through to the end of August they rebounded, going unbeaten through four matches with a revenge victory at home over DC (2-1), a hammering of Houston (5-0), a scoreless draw in Philadelphia, and a solid away outing in New England (2-4) aided by an early red card to Revolution keeper Matt Reis.
It was but temporary respite, as another winless run – six matches this time, including five losses – led them into the second-to-last weekend of the season at risk of an epic failure.
They lost at home to Columbus (1-2), then again to Vancouver (0-3), before drawing late in Chicago after Mike Magee’s penalty kick struck wood and Maxim Tissot prodded home an equalizer in the waning minutes
They would lose in Houston (1-0) and back home to New England (0-1), and then drop another one-goal result in Los Angeles last Wednesday, to set up their dramatic come from behind 2-1 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday.
Fabinho put the Union in front a minute before the half-hour mark, when a poor Karl Ouimette pass in the midfield was collected by Kleberson, who sauntered up-field, laid a ball inside the Montreal right-back for his fellow Brazilian to smash first-time high into the Impact net from a tight angle.
Troy Perkins perhaps should have done better with the shot.
Down at the half, their comeback can be attributed, almost single-handedly, to the determination of Marco Di Vaio, who played like a man possessed through the second half, crafting several chances and scoring the equalizer in the 64th minute.
Di Vaio collected a pass from Davy Arnaud on the left, turned inside on his marker, Amobi Okugo, and ripped a right-footer to the far-side of goal. Ray Gaddis desperately tried to retreat to the line and block the attempt, but only succeeded in deflecting it into the goal.
Gaddis was again involved in Montreal’s winner, when he conceded a free-kick on the right flank that was curled towards the back-post where both Matteo Ferrari and Ouimette broke free of the lax marking with the Impact Academy Graduate winning the header and beating Zac MacMath in the 84th minute.
The win was Montreal’s first in seven matches.
They currently sit in third place in the East on 49 points after 33 matches, which sounds better than it is. They are tied on points and wins with Chicago, leading by dint of five more goals-scored, and are just one point ahead of both New England and Houston.
With all four teams to play this weekend the final three spots in the East are entirely up for grabs.
July 3 Toronto 3: Montreal 3
The two played out a barn-storming 3-3 draw at the beginning of July with the goals coming fast and furious through the first half.
Andres Romero notched the first inside thirty seconds, latching onto a poor Darren O’Dea back-header to burst clear on goal. He lifted the ball over the on-rushing Joe Bendik and slotted a low right-footed shot past the covering Doneil Henry.
Toronto responded quickly: Matias Laba intercepted a Ferrari pass in the centre-circle, played out to Reggie Lambe on the right, who in turn fed Bobby Convey moving in from the left. His scuffed shot fell to Jeremy Brockie cutting in from the right towards the left-post where he hammered a left-footed shot high to the near-post to level.
Steven Caldwell then put the Reds in front in the 21st minute: a left-sided Luis Silva corner kick sailed through the box and was collected at the opposite side by Brockie. His cross to the back-post found an unmarked Caldwell who powered home a header.
TFC fans were sent into raptures – for one of the few times this season – when Darren O’Dea charged up the left, played a one-two with Silva and sent a low, left-footer to the right-side of the goal for a third three minutes later.
But such joyous scenes would not last long as Montreal would pull one back in the 69th when Collen Warner’s long ball was flicked on by Hassoun Camara, bounced off Ryan Richter, then Ferrari, then Richter again, before falling nicely for Camra to left-foot on the half-volley to low to the right-side of goal.
Less than a minute later Di Vaio would equalize after Jeb Brovsky dispossessed Lambe, Felipe collected the loose ball and slotted in Di Vaio past O’Dea. The striker’s darting touch with the right-boot was enough to turn it in.
It was Montreal’s second-consecutive draw at BMO Field in MLS play.
Schallibaum has been fairly consistent in his starting lineups, usually favouring a 4-2-3-1 style formation, though they have experimented with a two-striker system as well.
The one major change since the last meeting has been the acquisition of Hernan Bernardello, who has paired nicely with Patrice Bernier in the middle of the pitch.
Bernardello’s willingness to get down low and a little dirty has complemented Bernier’s cerebral style rather nicely; the double-Bern duo have, however, been troubled by injuries through the last month or so – Bernardello with an ankle knock and Bernier troubled by his hip.
Suspension and injury – though Montreal has been rather secretive on their reports - have resulted in some significant tinkering in the starting eleven of late, including some impressive cameos from a trio of young academy prospects, namely, Wandrille Lefevre, Karl Ouimette, and Maxim Tissot.
Heading into Saturday – without the up-to-date injury information – it is difficult to project exactly who will be available.
First-choice left-back, Jeb Brovsky has missed the last three matches with a broken toe, Alessandro Nesta limped off the pitch at the end of the weekend’s match with an apparent calf-problem that looks to have him sidelined, and Bernier has not looked quite right with that flaring hip issue.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Troy Perkins in goal, from right to left – Hassoun Camara, Wandrille Lefevre, Matteo Ferrari, and Karl Ouimette across the back-line; Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier sitting in the midfield with Justin Mapp, Felipe, and Davy Arnaud further up-field, and Marco Di Vaio the lone forward up top.
Should either Brovsky or Nesta turn out to be fit, do not be surprised if they get the start – Schallibaum will look to have as much experience as possible on the pitch at these crucial times.
Davy Arnaud has been a workhorse for the Impact, filling in undesirable roles wherever required; but if Montreal opts to go into the match with a more attacking outlook, it is possible that Andres Romero could get the nod in his place, though there are plenty of other options.
Should Schallibaum feel the need to go all out, Andrew Wenger could be deployed in tandem with Di Vaio, likely resulting in dropping one of the defensive mids – look for this as a substitute move should the Impact fall behind; while Sanna Nyassi is a good speed option out wide, though he has also featured up top on rare occasion – this too will likely be a sub option to open up the match, if necessary.
If Bernier cannot go his role would likely be filled by Collen Warner, an underappreciated force deep in the midfield, while Maxim Tissot has shown his value in recent weeks and is a good left-sided option should he be called upon.
Andrea Pisanu and Daniele Paponi, meanwhile, have found minutes limited of late, but are experienced and skilled options in reserve.
Is it hard to look beyond Marco Di Vaio when assessing the attacking threats of the Impact.
Tied with Mike Magee atop the Golden Boot charts – each with twenty goals on the season – Di Vaio has accounted for forty-percent of the Impact’s fifty goals and added two assists to his stats-line.
Preferring to drift out wide left before stealing towards goal, Di Vaio has a knack for finding the blind-spots in a defender’s peripheral vision, constantly testing the awareness of a back-line, and timing his runs to perfection, though he often strays offside – his 77 offside flags are more than eleven of the MLS team-totals this season, including Toronto’s 75.
With Felipe, Bernier, Mapp, and Arnaud all capable of threading balls from anywhere on the pitch, defenders must be acutely aware of the constant threat, lest they bite when the guard is let down.
Toronto switched off in their last meeting and paid the price:
Even if a defender does manage to contain Di Vaio in, what one may think to be, an advantageous outside position, they must beware of the dreaded cut-back move - sadly, Dejan Jakovic was not:
Note the searching aerial ball from Bernier that sprung Di Vaio in the first place.
Felipe, when switched on, is a handful, whether scoring himself:
Or weaving through defenders before setting up a teammate:
His runs from deep can be very bothersome, as defenders who focus too attentively on Di Vaio can leave gaps for Felipe to exploit.
Toronto needs to stay sharp and alert, while defending as a unit to both close down gaps that can be exploited – by balls or runners – and pressuring the ball-carrier.
When not picking teams apart from open play, Montreal does have some good size on set-pieces – whether free-kicks or corners – as witnessed by Ouimette’s game-winner from the weekend:
That size on the back-line – not to mention the, ahem, experience – does mean that they can be found a little wanting in the speed department, while the revolving cast has left them a little spacious at times, such as on Fabinho’s goal on Saturday:
Note how the lack of pressure allows time for Kleberson to pick that ball and Fabinho is able to blow past Camara on the outside to win the footrace for the ball and finish.
Kleberson took advantage of a poor midfield turnover; such mistakes have repeatedly proved costly, as Bernier’s silly back-header led to Mike Magee’s first goal in Chicago.
Toronto’s Ryan Nelsen claimed that their success in the first half of that July meeting was created by lulling Montreal into making the passes TFC wanted, thus allowing for predictable turnovers.
A further display of that ability would be more than welcome on Saturday, though without Laba it is less-likely to occur.
Straight-forward counterattacks have been troublesome for Montreal as well – both of Camilo’s goals for Vancouver in their 0-3 away win came from long breaks where the Impact back-line were unable to maintain their shape:
Montreal have also failed to retain their composure on scrambled or recycled set-pieces.
Against Los Angeles, it was Kofi Opare who turned in a scrambled play in the goalmouth that was allowed to escalate inside the box:
While against New England they were pulled apart on a recycled wide attack for a free-kick and once the cross got through, neither Bernier, nor Nesta, could prevent Jose Goncalves from finishing the game-winner:
And leaving Tim Cahill completely unmarked on a corner kick is just plain wrong.
Montreal and Toronto have met five times in league play with the Impact winning twice, TFC once, and drawing the other two.
Neither side has won either of the two league meetings at BMO Field, with both ending level.
Since the inception of the Voyageur’s Cup in its current form back in 2010, the two have met an additional six times in that competition with Toronto winning four, Montreal just once – the recent result that shall not be named – and a dour scoreless draw.
Montreal have never won in Toronto through their five attempts in all competitions.
Quite the way to end the season.