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Know Your Enemy: Montreal Impact – Meeting the Fifth & Final

Scouting report of the Impact ahead of Saturday's game. It's the 5th meeting of the season but plenty has changed. Check out all the details below.

Francois Laplante

It's been another tough week in Canadian soccer - is there any other kind?

The score-line that need not be mentioned eliminated the National Team from the World Cup with a woeful performance just when it appeared they would finally surmount that hurdle and make it to the dreaded Hex for the first time in fifteen years.

The resignation of Coach Stephen Hart, dutifully falling on his own sword in light of the disaster, despite leading the nation to its best attempt at qualifying since reaching the final stage in 1997, followed shortly after.

The fallout and despair from the drubbing in Honduras has weighed heavy on the hearts and minds. For those in Toronto, club football has done little to distract from failure on the international stage.

Then someone pressed the reset button.

On Thursday, TFC announced that the top-secret season ticket renewal pricing would see returning fans once more pay the prices that, in part, saw them flock to the lakeshore and pack the house clad in red back in 2007.

Money, however, is not everything and it will be some time before those stands are as full and boisterous as they once were - bring back the streamers, but for a club that has repeatedly done the wrong thing, this was a step in the right direction.

Cue the weekend's derby.

Though there is little to be proud about, considering the record-breaking futility of this season, when it comes to rivalry, all that noise of playoffs and standings is thrown out the window. A win over the local rivals could see some small measure of pride restored to the long-suffering fans who have repeatedly watched others succeed where they cannot.

Toronto's 0-3 win in Montreal back in June was arguably the highlight of a season that spiraled out of control from the start and then again just as things looked to be shaping up nicely - blame the SkyDome.

While there is little to be won on Saturday, a result would be another step in the right direction before the real work begins in the offseason.

It has been nearly four months since the two clubs last met; having played four times already this season the two should be well acquainted, but still a closer look at the Impact is in order.

Recent Form

While Montreal will be disappointed with being eliminated from playoff contention following a 1-1 draw in Houston last round, it has been an excellent expansion campaign, one that regardless of how these final two matches end will rank among the best for new clubs in MLS.

Forty-one points from thirty-two matches in an Eastern Conference that was much more competitive than pundits have originally projected at the start of the season.

Upon reflection, road form and early-season struggles can be blamed for most shortcomings.

Playing their first five home matches at the cavernous and uncomfortable Olympic Stadium and nine of their first fifteen away from home - at some of the more difficult grounds in the league - put Montreal in a hole that even their strong home form once having shifted to Saputo Stadium and an unbeaten month of August - part of a five-match winning streak - could not overcome.

September was cruel to the Impact; injuries, red cards, and a difficult schedule has seen them winless in their last four matches - a pair of losses to Columbus and Chicago and draws against KC and Houston ended their hopes of breaching the post-season at the first time of asking.

With two matches remaining, this weekend's and a final home fixture against New England, Montreal firmly has their sights set on finishing strong and perhaps overtaking Vancouver for the top spot in next season's Voyageur's Cup.

In a peculiar bit of legislation, the defending champions are not awarded top spot in the four-team competition, meaning Toronto - four-time winners (consecutively) - will be ranked third with NASL side Edmonton fourth.

Montreal trails Vancouver, current holders of the top spot, by a mere point, each with two matches remaining. Whoever tallies that highest total come season's end will have the - relatively - easier path to the finals with the other facing TFC.

Projected Lineup

Head coach Jesse Marsch - who will be watching from the stands having been dismissed from the Houston match and suspended for the derby; reserve team coach, Mike Sorber, will patrol the touchlines - had previously been dogmatically committed to his 4-2-3-1, but made a change in their last match.

With Felipe Martins absent - due to what was reported to be a groin strain - Marsch deployed a traditional 4-4-2 in lieu of his four-band system. Felipe has since gone under the knife for sports hernia surgery to repair a lingering issue and will miss the remainder of the season.

Other than long-term injury concerns - Felipe, Nelson Rivas, and Bernardo Corradi - for what seems like the first-time this season Montreal has a full complement of players at their disposal.

Their projected lineup is as follows: Troy Perkins in goal - having been acquired in a goalkeeping swap with Portland; from right to left: Hassoun Camara, Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari, and Jeb Brovsky across the back; Davy Arnaud, Collen Warner, Patrice Bernier, and Sanna Nyassi manning the midfield; Andrew Wenger and Marco Di Vaio will be paired up top.

football formations

There has been a little talk of Arnaud being fielded at right-back, as he was went the Impact were pressing in the second half in Houston, so as to allow either Justin Mapp or Lamar Neagle onto the pitch, they normally feature on the left-flank, so Nyassi could swap over to the right.

Rookie midfielder Callum Mallace patrolled the middle of the park alongside Bernier last match and would hope to get a run of matches to close the season, but Warner is back from suspension and Marsch will likely look to solidify the middle of the park with pride and points on the line.

Nesta has looked shaky in all his appearances this season and could make way for Camara or Shavar Thomas in the centre of defense.

With the absence of Felipe - their midfield maestro, Di Vaio has been called upon to play a little deeper and do more creating as opposed to testing the back-line running off the shoulder of the defenders - which, to be fair, he was doing quite a bit of previously anyways.

The Wenger-Di Vaio partnership appears to be an important tool for the Impact heading into the future with the Old Italian passing his expertise onto the youngster.

Last Meeting

As mentioned Toronto's 0-3 win in Montreal on June 27th in front of some twenty boisterous travelling fans - well, as boisterous as so few can be - was perhaps the high point of the season.

Paul Mariner had recently been appointed, a disparaging 2-0 loss in Kansas City was followed by a pair of draws away to Houston and at home to New England and the win - their second of the season - began a run of picking up point in six of seven matches, before the wheels once again came off.

The first half was rather uneventful, except for Jeremy Hall who took a beating; first, a fierce boot to the face from a Camara overhead kick attempt, that drew gasps from the recoiling crowd, then, from a whipped in cross that caught him square on the beak, requiring treatment and drawing sympathy/chuckles from those in attendance and on the broadcast - a rough day at the office for the young man.

Torsten Frings opened the scoring early in the second half, stepping up after Thomas had fouled Ryan Johnson, smashing a free kick straight down the middle and through the hands of Donovan Ricketts, after Terry Dunfield and Logan Emory had run over the dead ball.

Danny Koevermans played a key role leaning on Di Vaio on the inside of the wall, ensuring the flight path was clear for Frings.

Johnson doubled the lead twenty minutes later with a quality strike, reminiscent of Ronaldinho's versus Chelsea back in 2005 - reminiscent is all. Johnson collected the ball at the top of the arc after Nick Soolsma had surged forward, cutting in from the right. Johnson faked once to freeze the wall of defenders before stroking a left-footed finish through the crowd leaving the defenders and keeper perplexed at what had just happened as it nestled in the right-side-netting.

Koevermans capped the night; capitalizing on some good work by Ashtone Morgan, who won a half-cleared ball, passed up to Johnson before continuing his run and receiving the return pass on the left end-line. Morgan skillful placed a low cutback cross to the near-post area where Koevermans needed only the simplest of right-footed touches past Ricketts to convert the chance.

Frustration got the better of Bernier on the night as he laid a nasty tackle on Johnson in the ninety-fifth minute, one that saw him suspended by the discipline committee.

Bullet Points

Di Vaio prefers to lurk on the left side of the pitch, creating space for himself and looking for that devastating pass. Here he is ghosting off the shoulder of a Philadelphia defender, just waiting to be released.

He will drop more into the hole in the 4-4-2 and look to use his playmaking abilities. This pass for Nyassi in Houston was a touch of pure class.

Whether it is Di Vaio, Mapp or the back-line playing provider, Montreal looks to switch the point of attack to catch the opposition defenders off balance and out of position, often to great success. Mapp spots Nyassi at the back-post to devastating effect to win the match against New England.

Part of that strategy involves getting the ball forward with alarming pace. A Rivas pass, then an Arnaud header - two touches and Di Vaio is in alone to score.

Di Vaio is not the only attacking threat; Bernier has been a huge part of the club's success this season. His passing has been brilliant. Watch this tidy bit of footwork against San Jose to tee up Neagle.

Defensively, their back-line can be incredibly slow-footed. And considering how much experience they have among them, the marking on aerial threats - as against Chicago, where Sherjill MacDonald just abuses Rivas as though he wasn't even there - can be horrid.

And the occasional mental error, such as this needless, poor touch from Ferrari that hands Graham Zusi a free shot on goal, is unforgiveable.

Montreal and Toronto are tied for the most goals conceded in the final quarter of an hour in matches with sixteen each, so don't even think about leaving this one early.

The Impact's website took a few shots in a match preview from earlier in the week.

Hidden in the press release regarding season ticket prices was that each returning holder would be gifted a ticket to next year's season opening TFC match in Montreal at the Big O. The unbalanced schedule will see Toronto travel into Montreal only once in the league, so there could be a big TFC contingent again similar to the hordes that descended on Montreal this past Easter weekend.