With the second phase of their season melding into the third, Toronto FC is faced with a new challenge and a new target.
Back-to-back losses against the two clubs ahead of them in the Eastern standings have clearly indicated that TFC is not yet ready to compete amongst the elite, so focus must turn to staying ahead of the chasing pack.
The second phase began as the league resumed from the World Cup break and in the eight matches over the last month TFC has collected just seven from a possible 24 points – hardly anything to shout about from the roof tops – though, due in part to the lack of quality in the conference, they have maintained a grip on third in the East, currently entangled in a three-way tie on 26 points with New England and Columbus. Toronto does however have two matches in hand on each of their rivals.
With three months remaining in the season, Toronto must turn their attention to the mid-table dogfight. Their next eight matches are against conference opponents, including Columbus and New England, with a match away to Sporting KC their only fixture against a team not involved in the scrap.
The quest began poorly, a 3-0 loss in DC, but that is now in the past; turning the page the road trip continues with the second of four-straight away matches on Saturday. And this one carries a little extra significance, coming against Canadian foes, the Montreal Impact.
The two clubs have already met twice this season in the Voyageurs Cup, and so are well familiar with each other, but this will be their first encounter in league play, and each desperately wants the full points.
A closer look at this weekend’s enemy, the Montreal Impact, is in order.
With Marco Schallibaum’s tenure as head coach coming to an end after just a single season, Montreal began their third season in MLS under a third coach: Frank Klopas, former Chicago Fire boss, taking up the reins.
Whenever there is a coaching change, on field moves are bound to come, but Montreal was strangely silent in the off-season, perhaps guilty of resting on their laurels having made the playoffs last year.
Alessandro Nesta retired, while Davy Arnaud was traded to DC, and some, such as Sinisa Ubiparipovic, saw their options declined while just two players joined the club prior to the campaign’s kickoff – left-back Eric Miller was selected in the draft and Uruguayan attacker Santiago Gonzalez joined on a transfer.
Since the season began, rather poorly to be kind, Montreal has constantly tinkered with their roster, ultimately resulting in long-time club servant Nick De Santis leaving his technical position on Wednesday, Klopas taking over his duties.
Andrew Wenger, the club’s first-ever draft pick, was traded to Philadelphia for Jack McInerney; Hernan Bernardello’s contract option was not picked up; Collen Warner was shipped off to Toronto in exchange for Issey Nakajima-Farran, and just recently Sanna Nyassi was sent to Chicago with Dilly Duka headed in the other direction.
While Nelson Rivas, who has sadly been unable to find fitness in his time with the club has left and Adrian Lopez, a Spanish defender acquired last season, succumbed to another ACL injury and will require another eight months on the side-lines.
Montreal have also added centre-back Futty Danso from Portland – perhaps in response to the aforementioned moves, as well as signing Polish outside back, Krzysztof Krol, Basque midfielder, Gorka Larrea, and Argentine playmaker, Ignacio Piatti, who has yet to join the club, finishing out the Copa Libertadores campaign with current side, San Lorenzo – with the Argentines having made it to the competition’s final, he will not be available until after August 13, the date of the second leg.
Another homegrown player, the club’s sixth, was signed as well, with Jeremie Gagnon-Lapare moving up to the first team and making his league debut last week in Salt Lake.
All that movement has made it very difficult to put a finger on just what sort of lineup Klopas will opt to use on Saturday. They will have had six days of rest since their last match, but must consider a CONCACAF Champions League fixture coming up the following Tuesday against Salvadoran side, CD FAS.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Evan Bush in goal; from right to left – Hassoun Camara, Matteo Ferrari, Heath Pearce, and Kryzsztof Krol across the back-line, Justin Mapp, Patrice Bernier, Felipe, and Andres Romero through the midfield, with Jack McInerney and Marco Di Vaio paired up top.
Troy Perkins has been their recognized starting keeper since joining the club from Portland in 2012, but has been the victim of the much-needed shakeup, with Bush starting the last three matches. Who gets the start come Saturday is anyone’s guess, but Bush has not done anything to lose the starting spot – not that Perkins did in the first place.
Larrea is currently listed as injured, but either Callum Mallace or Gagnon-Lapare could take up positions alongside Bernier at the base of the midfield if Klopas opts to reinforce the defense with an extra stopper. But seeing as they are at home and in need of points (and a confidence boost against rivals, Toronto), it is more likely he sticks to the two striker formation.
Nakajima-Farran will be available having served his suspension and is a candidate to take up the left-side of the midfield, but both Mapp and Romero have been in good form, so should hold their spots. Dilly Duka has just joined the side, but is an option on the outside of the midfield. Maxim Tissot has looked very lively moving up to the left side of midfield from his left-back position and will likely feature, from the bench if not in the starting eleven.
Futty Danso, Karl Ouimette, and Wandrille Lefevre are all candidates to take up positions on the back-line, but will more likely feature in the Champions League match – Ouimette and Lefevre had to be pulled from the Homegrown match during next week’s All-Star festivities to be available for the midweek contest.
This season has not been kind to the Impact; they currently sit in tenth place in the Eastern Conference on fourteen points from twenty matches, a full five points off ninth-placed Houston to languish at the bottom of the league. Despite that, they are only twelve points off the final playoff spot in the conference.
Their season began poorly, going winless through their first seven matches before closing out the month of April with a 1-0 win over Philadelphia at home. They would shockingly lose the first leg of their Voyageurs Cup semifinal 2-1 in Edmonton and need a controversial last-minute penalty kick to win 4-2 at home and ensure a place in the final.
Meanwhile, their league form suffered, with further losses to Kansas City and Colorado, though they did draw with DC United.
The Voyageurs Cup final would bring with it a renewed vigour, achieving a 1-1 draw in Toronto, winning their next league match 2-0 over New England, before taking the championship with a 1-0 win over TFC back in Montreal to seal their spot in the Champions League. But they would enter the World Cup pause on a down note, falling 2-4 to a rampant DC on July 11.
Just fourteen days later, they were one of the first teams to resume league play with a dire 0-0 draw in Vancouver, which they followed up with a resounding 3-0 win at home over Houston, on the strength of a McInerney brace and a Di Vaio goal, indicating that perhaps there was life yet to be had.
Unfortunately it was a false dawn and they have dropped all five matches since, beginning with a 1-0 loss in Chivas, when Cubo Torres acrobatically found the winner in the fourth-minute of second half stoppage-time, pouncing on a loose ball after Ferrari was stunned, struck in the face with a stray pass that fell to the Mexican.
The next week it was another late mishap that allowed Kansas City the 1-2 win in Montreal – Pearce and Perkins getting their wires crossed to allow CJ Sapong to pry free a ball that should have been dealt with easily. Dom Dwyer would fire in his second of the match in the 89th minute, having seen his fourth-minute opener cancelled out by a Di Vaio strike before the half-hour.
And the week after that a pair of second-half goals from Columbus’ Bernardo Anor doomed Montreal to a third-straight defeat after Di Vaio had given the Impact the lead in the first-half.
Last week on Thursday, the Impact would play Real Salt Lake in a tight contest, rebounding from a third-minute Luke Mulholland goal to level in the 31st minute through Camara, only for the red card to Issey to doom them to a 3-1 defeat; Olmes Garcia scoring both goals for the home side in the final twenty minutes of play after Montreal were reduced to ten men.
And this past weekend, they went toe-to-toe with Portland, fighting back to a 2-2 draw before half-time, courtesy of a Tissot strike in the 44th; Montreal had taken the lead in the thirteenth minute through Romero, only to fall behind on goals six minutes apart from Max Urruti and Will Johnson. But another late goal, from Diego Valeri in the 82nd minute, extended the Impact’s currentl losing skid to five matches.
Part Two, reviewing the game film for strengths and weaknesses will be posted first thing tomorrow morning.