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Know Your Enemy: Montreal Impact – Meeting the Third – Voyageurs Cup Second Leg Edition

Ok Kocic, remember, Bernier's going to kick it to your right.
Ok Kocic, remember, Bernier's going to kick it to your right.

Can we play you every week?

That must be what Montreal is thinking, rounding into impressive form and coming off a positively shocking 0-2 defeat of a high-flying Sporting Kansas City in the difficult environs of Livestrong Sporting Park on the weekend; especially given their success in the previous two meetings with Toronto FC.

To that point, it has felt like the two clubs have met regularly - and will continue to do so, this being the third of five matches - with Montreal taking the lead in the head-to-head off the strength of a 2-1 win in the league and that lifeless 0-0 draw last week in the first leg of the series.

This, the Wednesday match - both of date and of chronology - of the weeklong series between the two has all the signs of that infamous hump day. Though it has been a tough week thus far for TFC, there is still plenty of time to turn it around and prepare for a weekend celebration. As the season rolls to its conclusion this will be a vital encounter that could well define success and spark postseason aspirations.

Laboured analogies aside, should Montreal win; the opening stanza of their inaugural MLS season can be seen as a successful one and a second phase will begin with a two-legged tie with old USL and NASL rivals Vancouver before attempting to see out the summer slog with a playoff chase.

For Toronto, some would say, a loss would be cataclysmic. Aron Winter would most assuredly be out or at death's door - if he isn't already; the playoffs would appear even further from their grasp and that sense of impending doom that has built since the conclusion of the CONCACAF Champions League could well come to a head, both on the field and in the stands.

But to win against the old enemy, well that could be just the spark that sees the Red's year turn around.

Recent Form

Having only met one week ago to the day, that which was discussed before - meeting the first and meeting the second - is still pertinent. Not much has changed in seven days, each team having since played only a single match.

Toronto 0-2 loss to DC United at BMO Field illustrated little new information; the same old mistakes and short-comings reappear, new injuries to contend with, and the aforementioned gloom descends deeper.

To be fair, there were some positives. The wide attackers have done a better job of contributing defensively, the passing has been slightly crisper, and the full-backs more measured in their forays forward.

Julian de Guzman man-marked Dwayne De Rosario out of the match, while the defenders did a solid job of stepping up on Maicon Santos, limiting his effectiveness, thus sparing fans the embarrassment of watching more former heroes inflict damage on their beloved TFC. That they erred in applying similar pressure to Chris Pontius, who opened the scoring, was a whole other reason to blush.

Montreal took a three-match undefeated streak into Eastern Conference leaders KC and put together a valiant defensive effort, which when combined with some opportunistic finishing saw them leave town having extended that stretch to four matches.

Goals from Felipe Martins - a sumptuous hit from distance, perfectly placed into the bottom left corner of Jimmy Nielsen's goal, beyond the reach of the spritely Danish keeper - and Patrice Bernier - expertly dispatched from the penalty spot, after Aurelien Collin was adjudged controversially to have tripped up Lamar Neagle.

Neagle, as he had against Toronto, caught the backline stationary following a half-clearance - Matt Besler poking the ball off the foot of Justin Braun, which fell neatly to Neagle - splicing between Julio Cesar and Collin. In alone, a moment of hesitation as he lined up a shot allowed Collin a split second to intervene. Replays were inconclusive as to whether the flamboyant Frenchman got a touch on the ball, the direction of its movement indicates it is likely he did, but it mattered not, as the penalty kick was awarded.

Despite Sporting doubling possession, passes, and nearly quadrupling shots, a fine defensive display by the Impact, combined with some woeful finishing - it must be said - saw the result stand.

A first away win for Montreal, who are now unbeaten in four and have not conceded in nearly three hundred minutes of play.

Truly the most surprising result of the season.

Projected Lineup

Manager Jesse Marsch introduced several changes for Saturday night, altering Montreal's preferred starting eleven.

Centre-backs Nelson Rivas and Hassoun Camara made their first appearances of the season, following long injury layoffs and performed admirably. Patrice Bernier resumed his role in the midfield alongside Felipe Martins and the entire attacking quartet was rested, with Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Lamar Neagle, Justin Braun, and Eddie Sebrango selected instead.

In Kansas City, Montreal lined-up in a more rigid 4-4-2 than they had previously, reminiscent of the first few matches of the season. Since those opening throes, they have adapted into something approaching a 4-2-3-1, as discussed in previous reports, with Sanna Nyassi playing the important central role, functioning as both a striker and a midfielder, depending on possession.

It is expected that, although the changes worked out well, Montreal will return to a lineup very similar to the first leg. Donovan Ricketts should remain in goal; from right to left across the back - Jeb Brovsky, Shavar Thomas, Matteo Ferrari, and Tyson Wahl; Collen Warner and Felipe sitting in midfield, with Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp on the right and left flanks respectively; Nyassi should take up his role, while Bernardo Corradi, who was out of the eighteen entirely on the weekend, will return atop the formation.

football formations

Right-back Zarek Valentin is still out with injury, while Justin Mapp's inclusion is questionable; Neagle would take his place if he is unavailable. It is entirely possible that being one of the few Canadian's in the squad and having performed so well in KC, Bernier could be given the nod over Warner in such a decisive and domestically important match.

It is unlikely either Rivas or Camara would feature on such short rest, replacing Thomas beside Ferrari, but not impossible.

Last Meeting

The less said about the dire 0-0 draw in Montreal last Wednesday the better.

For the seventeen or so fans that made the trek and those who watched from afar, it was a wholly underwhelming night.

Milos Kocic was called upon to make several decisive saves, most notably tipping a Neagle strike over the bar and Montreal did have the ball in the net once through Nyassi, though it was chalked off due to an offside decision.

Toronto barely ventured forward, preferring to sit back on the patchwork turf surface and absorb Montreal's attack, stifling the play in an effort to keep the match scoreless, collect their first - and only - clean-sheet of the season, and return home with the result still in the balance.

It will undoubtedly be a much more thrilling affair than that, but whether it will be any more open is up for debate.

One gets the impression that the first goal will be of vital import in a match such as this. Should Toronto open the scoring, that millstone round their necks may be lifted; should Montreal take a lead, the crowd could turn and that disappointment could be insurmountable.

Bullet Points

On a positive note, the Impact did look vulnerable to attacks from the wide areas and were it not for Sporting's profligacy in front of goal; they would have suffered for it. Missed chances were the order of the day - headers from Kei Kamara, another by Collin directed off the bar, and a perplexing miss by Besler, who ghosted in at the far-post completely unmarked, only to get his body position wrong and pop his header well over the goal. Toronto is very proficient at working the ball into the flanks, but not as skilled at getting onto the end of those crosses. If they are to score, it will likely be from these areas.

Montreal has apparently been practicing penalty kicks in the event the second leg ends in a stalemate. League play has so far shown us that Bernier likes a stutter-step in his run up, blasting his effort with his right foot to the keeper's right after sending him diving in the opposite direction in KC. Corradi, taker of other two kicks the team has been awarded so far - against Dallas and Portland - prefers to smash them right-footed down the middle of the net; safe and clinical.