While Toronto FC is playing the best soccer in franchise history, elsewhere in Canada things are not going so well. The Vancouver Whitecaps have dropped out of a playoff spot and now sit second-last in the Western Conference. The Montreal Impact, meanwhile, haven't won in their last three matches.
This includes a 3-0 loss at home to the Chicago Fire, yes you read the correctly. This made Montreal coach Mauro Biello apologise to the fan base for how poorly the team had performed. They are still fairly secure in terms of their playoff position, the Impact currently sit 5th in the East, but another loss today and things could start to get hairy.
Waking the Red caught up with Mount Royal Soccer, SB Nation's Montreal Impact blog to talk about tonight's match.
1. While Toronto FC's DPs have been in top form lately, the Impact's have been struggling, what is the reason for this and how much has it hurt the team?
Ignacio Piatti had a strong start to the season, and finally seemed to be a team player, passing the ball and making a play in many moments where previously he would have held and eventually lost it. Playing with the team meant they were more gladly willing to play with him, and the resulting teamwork saw him shoot up the Golden Boot table. With the Impact's recent slump, however, Piatti has regressed into the talented-but-ball-hogging player we knew from previous seasons.
Didier Drogba, it's harder to say, but mostly I'd like to blame his slower season on two things. Firstly, other teams are more prepared to play against him than they were at the end of last season, and are shutting him down a lot more skillfully. Secondly, there has been a serious lack of service to the former Chelsea star of late, thanks to a recent disconnect between the defence and offence. The ball just isn't making it from the back of our midfield to the attacking players as often as it needs to.
Our not-technically-a-DP Laurent Ciman has struggled mostly because he is trying to compensate for the rest of our defence, which has been shaky these past few weeks.
2. Montreal has been beaten quite badly in two of their last three games, what is going wrong with the backline right now and how can it be corrected?
From my point of view, the coaching staff decided to sacrifice defence for a more offensive approach this year, having the fullbacks play a far bigger role in the offensive buildup than in years past. The results have been mixed: on one hand, the team has seen more goals scored on crosses than ever before, but on the flip side, the team has conceded far too many on counterattacks, and the latter has far outweighed the former.
If the team wants to continue in this vein, they have to have, first and foremost, a centre back duo that has the composure, experience, and wherewithal to withstand a properly executed counter attack. Laurent Ciman and Hassoun Camara seem to be that pairing. Both are savvy veterans who know when to take a professional foul, and when to take risks.
Camara has unfortunately been playing RB for most of the season, and despite his solid efforts, doesn't have the pace or the passing acumen to play the positional at a top level for 90 minutes. After excelling versus DC United at centre back on Wednesday, coach Mauro Biello would be smart to partner him in the middle with Laurent Ciman once again this Saturday.
At RB, it would be interesting to see the newly acquired Amadou Dia get a start. The team has a bit of a logjam on their hands at LB, with three players (Oyongo, Dia and Toia) all naturally left-footed players, which is perhaps why we've seen the right-footed Camara get many starts at RB. Camara is built for the CB position, however, so it would be nice to see Biello attempt to figure out who of the three LB's can best play the RB position.
3. Matteo Mancuso is a player who most Toronto FC fans haven't seen in action yet. What can you tell us about what he has brought to the table for the Impact?
Mancosu has shown some serious skill on the ball already, and has the skill to finish on a single touch. In particular, his recent goal against Houston really showed what he's capable of. He's a faster player than Drogba, and uses his speed and positioning to his advantage, contrasted to the Legend's style of using his physicality and hold up play to turn the game in his team's favour.
Biello has been playing the two together up top more often than not, and their different styles add depth to the Impact's attack. We weren't sure either what to expect from Mancosu before he got here, but he seemed to be billed as Drogba's replacement. He'll certainly be that next season, but more than that, he's been a capable partner to our Ivorian in his short time with the Impact.
Projected Starting XI: