Hot on the heels of the weekend’s 0-1 loss to Salt Lake, Toronto FC returns to action against fearsome rivals, Montreal Impact, on Wednesday night.
It has been some time – two months, almost exactly – since the debacle in Montreal, where the Impact progressed to the final series of the Voyageurs Cup with a 6-0 hammering of TFC.
That was an unpleasant experience, but what does this match hold?
Montreal, and their impressive campaign, has been one of the shocks of the MLS season, surging to the upper echelons of the table, contesting for the Supporter’s Shield and currently sitting top of the Eastern Conference.
Much of what was discussed before still rings true, but a close look at the Impact is in order.
First in the East with games in hand on their closest rivals, Montreal enters the match on the back of a disparaging loss to Colorado, 3-4 at Stade Saputo – their first home loss of the season.
Undoubtedly they will be hungry to right that wrong.
It has been a strange stop-start season for the Impact, having had prolonged periods of inactivity followed by flurries of matches – they only played three matches in April and four in June, but had seven in May; a factor that may cause some discomfort come Champions League commitments, having exhausted their bye weeks so early in the season.
The Impact have won four of their last six league matches – home to Houston (2-0), Philadelphia (5-3), and Salt Lake (3-2) and away to Kansas City (1-2) – losing away to Columbus (2-0) and at home to Colorado (in the aforementioned 3-4 barnstormer).
After dispatching TFC in the Voyageurs Cup, Montreal went on to win their first Canadian Championship since 2008 – with a scoreless draw at home before an entertaining 2-2 draw at Vancouver to take the aggregate on away goals – and will represent the country in this season’s Champions League.
Of note, Montreal has not lost consecutive matches – in all competitions no less – this season, nor have they ever won at BMO Field.
That said, their road form has not be spectacular, with three losses, three wins, and a draw – two of those wins came in the first two matches of the season, so they have only one win in their last five away matches that coming in KC.
When the two last met in the league, at Stade Olympique in Montreal on March 16, the Impact were 2-1 winners in an evenly contested match.
Andres Romero won a penalty for the home side, taking to ground after a shoulder barge from Ashtone Morgan – Patrice Bernier converted from the spot, as usual.
Marco Di Vaio doubled their advantage in first half stoppage-time, taking advantage of the space between Danny Califf and Darren O’Dea after some well worked passing through the middle from Bernier and Davy Arnaud – Waking the Red broke down their goal in the What Just Happened Segment (which should return soon, it is tiring writing about repeated late game breakdowns, so it took a hiatus).
The dearly-departed Terry Dunfield-inho created the second (also investigated in the above segment) going to ground after his darting run was blocked off by Dennis Iapichino – Robert Earnshaw stepped to the spot and duly finished.
In the Voyageurs Cup, Toronto took a solid 2-0 lead at home with Doneil Henry – a blast from the top of the box - and Andrew Wiedeman – after a wonderful through-ball from Luis Silva – scoring the goals.
TFC was absolutely dismantled in the return leg, 6-0. Justin Mapp opened the scoring and Daniele Paponi doubled the advantage before Di Vaio scored the first of a brace, moments before half-time.
Romero added a fourth before Di Vaio netted in the final minute of the match and Andrew Wenger added further insult in the fourth minute of second half stoppage-time – much to the enjoyment of the home crowd.
Montreal advanced to face Vancouver 6-2 on aggregate.
Despite the short turnaround and a match against Chivas on Sunday, one can expect Montreal to field a strong lineup – their decision to rest players in the first leg of the Voyageurs Cup meeting raised the ire of the fans and they are unlikely to make the same concession in a league match, especially one they will enter thinking of taking maximum points.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Troy Perkins in goal, from right to left – Hassoun Camara, Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari, and Jeb Brovsky across the back; Patrice Bernier sitting in front of the back four with Andres Romero, Felipe, and Andrea Pisanu across the midfield, Daniele Paponi and Marco Di Vaio should pair up top.
Justin Mapp was unavailable on Saturday – listed as questionable on the most recent injury report, as was Sanna Nyassi, limiting Montreal’s midfield options.
If either is available, they could indeed feature. Mapp has been very effective since moving over to the right-flank, where he can cut in onto his left-foot and cause trouble. Nyassi can man either side and his pace is troublesome.
Davy Arnaud has only just returned from concussion symptoms – suffered in the second leg of the Voyageurs Cup series between the two clubs, when he took a ball square in the face and was forced off; he has yet to start a match, but could figure in, if Marco Schallibaum so chooses.
Draft pick, Blake Smith is more a bench option, providing speed later in matches; while last season’s first-overall selection, Andrew Wenger, has struggled to find a regular place in the side – making seven of his twelve appearances from the bench.
Collen Warner too has found his minutes limited, though he could start if Montreal opts to rest Bernier for the weekend – not very likely; nor is it likely that Montreal would field two holders – Bernier and Warner, as they did away to Kansas City - against opposition as lowly as TFC.
Montreal does not really have as much depth as one would expect a club that has done so well – aside from Nelson Rivas’ knee injury, Nesta’s regular spells on the sidelines, and Arnaud concussion, they have been fortunate in the injury department.
Only nineteen players on their roster have over 100 minutes in the league this season, compared to twenty-four at TFC.
Montreal’s defense has been a considerable weakness in recent matches, conceding sixteen goals in their last eight league matches – averaging two per match for those averse to simple math. In fact, they kept only one clean-sheet over that time frame, after keeping three through their first seven matches.
That failing has been hidden by scoring slightly more – eighteen over that same spell.
The lesson to be learned from the Voyageurs Cup series is that Toronto will be better served by keeping this game tight – as they did in the first leg, rather than trying to force the play and opening up – as they did in the second.
Montreal’s ability to break quickly up-field was particularly devastating that night and has continued to be deadly.
The addition of a second striker – whether it be Paponi or Wenger – gives Di Vaio somebody to play off of, either as provider or recipient.
Here Di Vaio drops off to collect the ball in midfield before slipping Paponi through against Colorado.
While against Salt Lake, Di Vaio got on the end of a nice little feed from Wenger to score the equalizing goal before Ferrari popped up late for a stoppage-time winner – something their defenders have a knack for doing.
Felipe’s breaks forward from the midfield, either arriving late or surging early into the space left by Di Vaio’s movement wide left, and Bernier’s passing ability are two threats that must be watched closely.
Those two forces combined for this wonderful goal against Houston.
Their marking on the defensive end has left something to be desired, watch how lax Romero is on covering Dillon Powers for this Colorado goal from the weekend.
Toronto should definitely look to commit numbers into the box, especially when they have worked the ball wide – a failing that has repeatedly affected their ability to score thus far.
Nesta, decorated and imperious though he may be, at times can fall victim to a lack of pace and a tendency to get frustrated – see his red card for a head-butt on Kansas City’s Claudio Bieler.
His very late tackle on Nick LaBocca sets up the free-kick that led to Colorado’s opening goal.
That goal also displays another of Montreal’s frailties, matching up in the air with some of MLS’ more dynamic aerial threats – Danny Koevermans could have a field day, as he did in the recent reserve match between the two, scoring a brace as Toronto won 0-5 in Montreal, acquiring a modicum of revenge.
Turnovers, given the gusto with which Montreal surges forward looking for counters, have been a source of much trouble for the Impact.
The winning Colorado goal on the weekend caught them with numbers forward after Arnaud was dispossessed by Chris Klute, while Warner had his pocket picked by Dominic Oduro in the disappointing result away to Columbus.
Oduro’s thievery also takes advantage of one of the risks inherent with Montreal’s formation and style. By spreading the centre-backs out so wide and relying on a deep-lying midfielder to begin the attack, if the ball is not moved up field quickly enough, options can prove limited and any turnover is met with very little resistance up the middle of the park.
Toronto should definitely pressure the ball carrier and look to transition quickly in order to catch Montreal vulnerable.
This one should be tasty; the two meet once more in the final regular season match on October 26.