Coming off a strong showing in an exhibition game against Olympique de Lyon, the Montreal Impact welcome the Eastern Conference leading New York Red Bulls to Saputo Stadium on Saturday evening. The Impact will get a massive boost as Alessandro Nesta will feature in his first MLS game and Andrew Wenger should get the start on attack alongside Marco Di Vaio.
The importance of this game cannot be underestimated. Now that the injured players are back and there has been time to rest in between MLS games, the result of this game will be pivotal in determining whether or not the Impact are still in the playoff hunt. A win against the Red Bulls in a sold out Saputo Stadium can be the beginning of a Cinderella-like story until the end of the season.
To help preview the game, our friends at Once A Metro have answered some questions so that we can get to know our opponents. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Despite already having Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper, Red Bulls management went out and added more firepower by acquiring Sebastian LeToux of the WhiteCaps. As of yesterday, Australian Tim Cahill has also been confirmed as the team’s newest DP. Is there such a thing as too much firepower? Which regulars stand to lose the most playing time with these two additions?
The Red Bulls acquired LeToux in exchange for right winger Dane Richards and also shipped out Juan Agudelo for help on the backline earlier this season, so in a way there was actually a lack of quality and versatile depth on the attacking end of the roster. Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper have played well but have only started ten games together, less than half of the 21 matches New York has played so far this year.
Because it's been such an injury plagued season, often it isn't the "best" starting eleven possible taking the field each week but the healthiest. As far as who is most likely to lose playing time with the additions of Cahill and LeToux, I look at rookie Connor Lade who has been tremendous filling in but could also be a dangerous option off the bench. Also two players who have been injured, Teemu Tainio and Jan Gunnar Solli. They are coming back, Tainio in particular from a long-term absence, into quite a crowded midfield situation. With all these quality options, if everyone stays healthy, it's hard to imagine Mehdi Ballouchy playing much of a role the rest of the way aside from some garbage time appearances.
2. The Red Bulls had the first chance sign now Montreal Impact central defender Alessandro Nesta. During his first press conference with our media, he mentioned that the Red Bulls simply didn’t want him. With the 3rd worst defense in the Eastern Conference, can you help us understand why he isn’t needed?
Yikes! When New York's defense is being called out by someone who covers the worst defense in MLS each week there must be room for improvement, right?
Actually, it depends on how you're measuring. New York may have the 3rd worst defense in the Eastern Conference in terms of goals allowed, but 1/4 of those goals were scored in just two matches against DC United and Chicago. But it would be misleading to claim that New York's defense hasn't struggled at times. Much of that though I would attribute to injuries and a lack of cohesion that develops among a back line over time. It was rumored that New York offered Nesta a contract, it just wasn't the DP money he was looking for. And considering New York was able to trade for an all-star defender in Heath Pearce and sign Tim Cahill as their 3rd DP, I think the back line and roster overall are vastly improved even without Nesta.
3. New York is in first place in the east. Do you guys have what it takes to hold off SKC, Houston and DC United for the top spot? What would you say is your team’s weakness?
Houston has really picked it up as of late but it's hard to tell which is the "real" Dynamo team. It definitely does not help their cause this year losing their best defender Geoff Cameron to Stoke City. I see Sporting Kansas City as New York's biggest threat. They started the year red hot and have cooled off a bit, but while this week is the last time Montreal and New York will play in 2012, the Red Bulls have all three regular season matches against SKC left to play.
Do the Red Bulls have what it takes to finish atop of the Eastern Conference? Sure, if the right combination of players can stay healthy and the team utilizes its depth (and that's a big if).
BONUS: Is there an underrated player that Montreal fans should watch out for on Saturday? Why?
New York doesn't have a lot of underrated players but keep an eye on Jonathan Borrajo who will be making his first MLS start after coming in for an injured Brandon Barklage on Sunday against Philadelphia. His performance off the bench was mixed, but Hans Backe has voiced confidence that with a week to prepare to start against Montreal he should be up to the task.
BONUS: Predicted formation and final score
Formation: Expecting a 4-3-3 with Henry, Cooper, and Le Toux up top, and Roy Miller, Markus Holgersson, Wilman Conde, and Jonathan Barrajo across the backline (New York's usual right back, Brandon Barklage, will miss the match with an injured hamstring). For the midfield, Joel Lindpere and Dax McCarty are pretty sure bets to start, and if Rafa Marquez isn't ready to return from injury Connor Lade may get what may be his last start before Cahill gets plugged into the starting lineup. This formation will often look a lot more like a 4-4-2 diamond the way that the players move and cover each other on the field, however.
For a score prediction, I'll go 2-1 to the Red Bulls with goals from Kenny Cooper and his doppelganger Sebastian Le Toux.