Match previews

Preview: Union at Montreal Impact

Who: Philadelphia Union at Montreal Impact
What: MLS Regular Season
Where: Stade Saputo, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
When: 7pm EST
TV: CSN, Direct Kick, MLS Live
Referee: Juan Guzman, ASST 1: Anthony R Vasoli, ASST 2: Bill Dittmar, 4TH: [TBD]

The two most improved teams in the Eastern Conference face off on Saturday in Montreal. The Impact have a more reliable defense, a developed midfield, and a proven finisher propelling them to heights they could only dream of in their inaugural season. The Union have the league’s top goalscorer, a young and inconsistent lineup, and a thin back line.

On the surface, this should be Montreal’s game to lose. But with tempers flaring during the last meeting between these teams, the Union should be fully motivated to storm into Stade Saputo and show the Canadians that buying Italians isn’t a surefire way to secure a playoff spot.

Opposition report

Montreal has not played an MLS match since stealing three points from Real Salt Lake on May 11. Matteo Ferrari made up for an own goal with a late winner. Marco Di Vaio tied the match in the 80th minute with his sixth goal of the season.

The win was just the second victory for the Impact since their season opening four-match winning streak. Though the offense has remained consistent all season, the back line has gone from stout to sketchy. In the last six matches, Montreal has allowed nine goals, though they have given up only three of those at home.

In many ways, Montreal is a wonderful foil for this developing Union team. Montreal is strong up the spine, while Philly gets more pressure from the wings. The Impact’s success is driven by the consistent play of established veterans while the Union tend to vacillate between periods of positive, coordinated movement and ugly, random spacing that could only be planned if Jackson Pollock is the master tactician.

The Impact are oddly predictable for such a solid offensive team. All 13 open play goals have come on the ground, and Felipe’s opener against Salt Lake was the first scored off a cross this season. Montreal’s goals look the way they do because the team can control the middle third of the pitch through Patrice Bernier and Felipe Martins. With good spacing in the midfield supported by Marco Di Vaio and Andrew Wenger’s movement and hold-up play, the Impact can probe with more patience than most MLS sides.

Though they haven’t been scoring through the air, Montreal has owned the skies defensively. Nobody has put a headed goal past Troy Perkins in 2013, Indeed, the consistency that could have made the Impact predictable has instead gelled into the foundational aspect of a strategy that makes Montreal very difficult to beat. With seven first half goals and eight second half goals, the Impact are a team that plays the same way from first to last whistle. The only chink in the Canadian team’s armor is that they fade late in road games, an issue that won’t come into play this weekend.

Union update

Well, that Chicago defense just is not very good. Luckily the offense is much worse. The Union turned a pair of set pieces into a pair of finely finished McInerney goals to dispatch the Fire twice in a week. Grinding six points out of three games in eight days is nothing to scoff at, and it gives the team the ability to go into Montreal with the knowledge that three points is less a necessity than an objective.

A rested Jeff Parke will return to the back line and attempt to maintain the organized look that developed with the Soumare-Gaddis relationship. Gaddis has looked less comfortable than a vegan with a cheesesteak when paired with Parke, and the two have some communication issues to sort out. Parke’s conservative tendency to drop to the middle has faced off with Gaddis’ zealous aggression to create both vertical and horizontal spaces that a tricky winger can exploit.

Montreal has just such a player in former Union man Justin Mapp. The mercurial Mapp has been hot of late, offering a wide outlet while Davy Arnaud recovers from concussion-like symptoms. If Mapp becomes heavily involved, the Impact offense gains a third dimension that is difficult to cover.

Most teams force Montreal to play narrow then try to stretch them on the counterattack. The improved midfield organization—coinciding with Bernier’s emergence as elite material in the center—has allowed the Impact to cope with this approach.

A strong possession game is a lot more dangerous when one of the best finishers in MLS is at the end of it. Marco Di Vaio took his time opening his MLS account last season but since then has shown his quality with darting runs and precise technique.

Dealing with Di Vaio

In a match that could get chippy, the Union can take the upper hand by using the strength of their back line to keep Marco Di Vaio from peeling off into spaces. Montreal does not pose much of a vertical threat, so Parke and Okugo can play higher up the pitch and get into Di Vaio’s back.

Should Montreal stick with a 4-4-2, second year pro Andrew Wenger will partner with Di Vaio. Though skilled and intelligent, Wenger has prospered as the Italian’s butler, setting the table rather than finishing the meal. In other words, take out Di Vaio, and Wenger will be forced to try things he doesn’t want to do.

On the attack

It is extremely important that Danny Cruz and Michael Farfan are involved in the offense early and often. Cruz often wants to stretch the field from his first step to his last, but it is crucial that he gets deeper touches and establishes a relationship with Kleberson early. Moving the ball in the midfield forces Patrice Bernier to play a more reserved role, and he won’t be able to key on the Union’s Brazilian playmaker. Kleberson should not need acres of space, but a few yards will go a long way toward helping him pick out McInerney’s runs.

In the back

It is all about Parke and Gaddis. If their relationship improves, so does the Union’s defense. Brian Carroll’s improved play in recent weeks has forced teams to attack down the flanks. They have found success against Gaddis on the left, though Baky Soumare showed intelligence to shift his positioning and accommodate the young left back’s more kamikaze tendencies in the last match against Chicago.

Key Matchup

Brian Carroll vs. Felipe. The Montreal midfielder can absolutely dominate a match if given space to run at a defense. If Carroll gets dragged out of the middle, Felipe will be able to look up and find one of the few strikers that can create their own space as well as Jack McInerney.

Additionally, Felipe, Wenger and Di Vaio have developed good interplay that draws in defenders if they find central space in the final third. The Union must be able to cope with these players if they want points on Saturday.

Prediction: 2-1 Montreal

Take nothing away from the Union: That is a good result north of the border.

A successful day will see an ugly match that produces quotes like, “That’s how you get points on the road in this league” from John Hackworth. Unless someone scores very early, the match will be very tight, with chances emerging from almost nowhere. Though the Impact have been good in the air defensively, corners and free kicks should provide Okugo and McInerney some real chances to trouble Perkins in net.

Winning the games you should win gives you leeway when you travel for tough road match-ups. The Union have done well against weaker opponents, so all they really need on Saturday is a point and a strong feeling that they can play with teams at the top of the East.

11 Comments

  1. McMohansky says:

    Great preview. Very excited about this match. Tough road test to measure up to. They couldn’t maintain shape and composure vs LA, wonder if they’ll have more confidence this time.

  2. Smart analysis. The U will need to go into this with a lot of confidence if they want a result… they’ll probably need to play for the win to get a draw. Playing for a draw will get them a loss.

  3. I’m sorry but is the prediction a 2-1 Montreal win and then you say this is a good result for the Union north of the border? I might be reading it wrong but if not, how exactly is 0 pts a good result?

  4. Great One says:

    Great analysis, I always look forward to this to get me ready for the game. The one thing that trading Garfan and Soumare away has done is take away the fun of doing a predicted/preferred lineup. Unless Hackworth completely loses his mind and takes out Kleberson or Marfan, you know we’re getting the normal back 4 (there are no other defenders on the team anyway, Albright doesn’t count), then Jack paired with Letoux or Casey with the other coming in later. Carroll, Marfan, Kleberson and Cruz. Then Hoppenot and Daniel will come off the bench.
    .
    We have no choice on defense, and the forward rotation has worked. This leaves the midfield. The current setup worked last game, so give it another shot. Only I’d like to see Torres in as a sub. If it doesn’t work like the rest of the year, then we need to make some kind of change.

  5. scottymac says:

    Good stuff.

    Just a quick note, was on StubHub and USOC tix for Tuesday are dirty cheap. See ya there.

  6. JediLos117 says:

    1-1

  7. Screw it…3-1 Union…Cruz Man of the Match

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      I like where your head’s at. 🙂 Not that I share your optimism, but I love it, all the same.

  8. I see a strong 45 out of the U, but will lose 3-1.

  9. Doc: Not a bad prediction… For the first half.

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