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Know Your Enemy. Montreal Impact - Meeting the First

Bernardo Corradi.  If we do see him on Saturday, let's hope he continues looking this awkward.
Bernardo Corradi. If we do see him on Saturday, let's hope he continues looking this awkward.

So the time has finally come, Toronto's Champions League campaign - whether a disappointment or a badge of honour - is over and now the focus switches to making up some of those points dropped in the opening weeks of MLS.

Toronto FC - still without a single point in league play - head directly into Montreal from Mexico for their first-ever MLS meeting with the Impact - a new twist to an old rivalry between the two original faces of Canada.

Montreal has shown as well as an expansion team should; were it not for several dubious refereeing decisions, some momentary lapses of concentration, a crossbar, and some poor finishing they would have procured more than the lone point they now hold on the back of some solid performances.

This one is for pride, the advantage heading into the Voyageur's Cup, and to jump start stagnant MLS campaigns.

The Lineup

Montreal lined-up in a very rigid 4-4-2 in all save one of their matches. On Wednesday night, as TFC was succumbing to the unrelenting Santos Laguna attack, the Impact took to the pitch in a 4-2-3-1 against Real Salt Lake.

It's a very small sample size, but given the strong performance coach Jesse Marsch witnessed his charges put forth in the more sturdy, four-banded formation, the bold prediction is that he will stick to the 4-2-3-1 versus Toronto on Saturday.

The temptation to roll out two forwards at home, especially against a weary and discouraged Toronto side, will be great, but moving Davy Arnaud into a central role - as opposed to his awkward position on the right flank - really added body and attacking impetus to the Montreal midfield. As captain, it was odd that Arnaud was isolated on the flank, when he can have much more influence on the proceedings from the centre, while also reinforcing the defensive core when necessary.

Several first choice players were rested midweek - one suspects the personnel changes were made both in response to the dismantling in New York the Saturday before, as well as with an eye on the home match approaching.

Patrice Bernier - their Quebecois talisman - missed out and will certainly return to the base of the midfield, replacing Collen Warner alongside Felipe Martins. Shavar Thomas performed well in the centre of defense, but should be replaced by Tyson Wahl, who was also rested, to reunite with Matteo Ferrari at the back. Sanna Nyassi and Bernardo Corradi were also held back midweek, making only substitute cameos in the final third of the match, for Lamar Neagle and Justin Braun respectively.

The projected lineup for the Impact on Saturday sees Donovan Ricketts in goal; from right to left - Jeb Brovsky, Ferrari, Wahl, and Josh Gardner across the back; Bernier and Brazilian Felipe at the base of the midfield; Nyassi, Arnaud, and Justin Mapp across the top; and Corradi as the spear-head.

football formations

It is entirely possible that Braun begins the match as the lone striker, a role he fulfilled admirably against Salt Lake. His increased mobility - when compared to the experienced Corradi - would be beneficial; but given the expected intense nature of the first throes and the undoubtedly tired legs in the Toronto side, Corradi's added physicality and savvy in these environments would do well to soften up the Toronto defense for Braun to come on as a half-time injection of pace.

Should Montreal trail as the match approaches its conclusion, number one overall draft pick Andrew Wenger will most likely come on as a late addition, as he has in most matches, perhaps, in this scenario, for one of those central midfielders. Preseason acquisitions from Seattle, Neagle and Mike Fucito, have yet to really be a factor for their new club.

The Tactics

Previously Montreal looked to get the ball into the wide positions, using their pace and trickery in getting forward to either deliver service into the box or by springing Braun and Nyassi into quick attacks. With Mapp and Arnaud on either flank they had experienced ball movers, who carried the risk of cutting in an unleashing a shot should the opportunity present itself.

With Corradi in the lineup they have the ability to play a slightly more direct style, with the Italian acting as a focal point, holding possession and bringing speedier attackers coming from deep into the play, while also providing a big target to aim for in the box from wide positions.

With Arnaud in the middle of the park, there is more attacking thrust. Both aerially - late runs into the box, as with his header in the home opener - or with his long-range shooting - as TFC has experienced first-hand from his time with Kansas City.

Felipe is the more dynamic of their midfield pair, getting forward and providing some creative distribution, with Bernier functioning more as the engine and ball winner, though he has at times struggled, still finding his way in a new league and with a very public role at the club.

Should Mapp and Nyassi take up the wide positions on either flank as projected, look for Nyassi to provide an outlet for quick breaks, while Mapp plays a more thoughtful game - making crafty runs, cutting in for a shot, or delivering service into the box.

Montreal is a very physical side, one built in the image of their coach Marsch, who was a tough tackling midfielder in his time in MLS. They lead the league in totals fouls and currently trail only Philadelphia in fouls per match - in part because of a comparatively clean match against Salt Lake.

The Form

Despite having not picked up any reward in their four road matches - their only point was registered in the 1-1 draw with Chicago in the home opener - Montreal have put forth a good account of themselves in each match.

Against Vancouver, it was two momentary lapses of concentration at the beginning of each half that led to the two, well-taken Whitecaps goals, while Y.P. Lee cleared an Arnaud header off the line and Mapp blasted a rising effort over the bar.

In Columbus, it was a soft red card to Brovsky for a supposed elbow on Milovan Mirosevic and a debatable penalty decision after Felipe had tangled with Emilio Renteria in the first twenty-five minutes that put the Impact into an insurmountable hole.

In New York, after coming out flying, they were undone by the class of Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry, who connected for a wonderful headed goal after Montreal had taken a deserved lead, before another dubious penalty decision leveled the two sides before halftime.

A gutting end to a well-played half, which precipitated them crumbling defensively in the second half.

Most recently a first half penalty - this time indisputable - for a Braun handball in the box; spoiled an otherwise hard-fought performance against Salt Lake.

Scoring has been an issues for the newest member of MLS, the Impact have been shutout in three of their five matches; only managing to tally against Chicago and New York.

Arnaud's header against the Fire was created by a right-sided Nyassi cross to the centre of the box that the captain directed across the keeper into the far corner of the net. In New York, it was Nyassi himself who opened the scoring. Bernier chipped a ball to Corradi at the top of the arc, which the Italian played into space behind the Red Bull centre-back Markus Holgersson for Nyassi to win and slot past Ryan Meara at the near-post. Their second that day came from Mapp, who cut in from his position on the left-flank across the top of the box and placed a right-footed shot neatly inside the near-post.


Montreal has suffered, as any new squad would, from poor man-marking, especially on deliveries from wide into the box.

Henry's opening goal in New York was brought about by not pressuring Marquez following a throw-in and allowing the former Barca man to pick his delivery on the right-flank and find Henry ghosting in between two markers.

Ferrari was occupied with Wilman Conde's run, while Zarek Valentin was slow to react to the threat and was caught on the wrong-side of Henry.

Olman Vargas' clinching goal in Columbus came from the opposite flank, when left-back Shaun Francis was played down the line by Renteria and was allowed time to pick out the Costa Rican forward who nodded a powerful header down to the near-post.

TFC's ability to work those wide areas in the attacking third and create danger from corner kicks - provided they beat the first man and don't sail the service beyond the target area - should call into question the Impact's ability to remain organized and compact.

Cohesiveness, communication, and familiarity amongst the back unit is paramount when it comes to defending as a group; Montreal is still working on maintaining that collective effort and minimizing the cost of individual mistakes.

Danny Koevermans will be rested and hungry to open his account, having been forced to miss out on the Champions League decider due to yellow card accumulation. His ability to find that space and cause havoc in the box will be of great use to TFC; expect Ferrari to attempt to battle with the big man.

Montreal keeper Donovan Ricketts has had a poor season by his standards. He has been slow to react to some shots and improperly handled others; it was his inability to hold onto a rebound that allowed Henry to steal in - albeit from an offside position - to complete his hat-trick into an unguarded net when Ricketts could only parry Kenny Cooper shot back into a dangerous area.

He should be tested with shots and pressured when in possession to force saves and cause turnovers whenever possible. For all the possession TFC has maintained in their matches thus far, they have not been creating enough chances on goal.

Vancouver showed how Montreal was susceptible to quick, pinpoint attacks when a Alain Rochat pass from the back was flicked on by Eric Hassli into the path of Sebastien Le Toux for a neat finish. And again when some fine passing down the right flank between Hassli, Le Toux, and Davide Chiumiento, allowed Camilo to break in on goal, cut-back on Ferrari and calmly finish past Ricketts.

Toronto will have to regain composure following Wednesday night's disappointments and be ready for a contentious and physical battle.

Points of Interest

An estimated one-thousand-plus Toronto fans will be embarking on the short journey - by North American standards - along the highway to Montreal to take part in the match. As pointed out on the scouting trip, this could be the first time that two large, vocal fan groups will be in direct competition with - and in view of - each other. It should be a memorable affair. For some peculiar reason, despite the remit of promoting these rivalries as one of the primary selling point of the league, this match has not been picked up by any of the US networks, leaving MLS Live as the lone broadcaster of the match. A missed opportunity.

Both clubs will have the memory of very similar defeats in the back of their minds as they take the pitch on Saturday. Montreal took the lead twice in New York, only to been drawn level by half-time and falter in the second half. While Toronto did the same in Torreon against Santos, only to be undone by a last-minute strike in first half stoppage time, and fail in the end against a superior side. With both clubs on short rest, whoever can put that disappointment behind them faster and seize the advantage stand a good chance of seeing out the result against a tired opponent.

Even though the number of actual locals will be limited on either side of the ball - with Bernier as the lone representative of Montreal and de Guzman, Ashtone Morgan, Matt Stinson, and Doneil Henry from Toronto - do not underestimate the importance of this regional clash. It will have been impressed upon the other players by the club hierarchy, the local media, and the fans just how crucial victory over this rival is to the team. Though not a true derby, it should be a good one.

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