GAME PREVIEW: Montreal Impact vs. Columbus Crew & 3 questions with Massive Report

MONTREAL, CANADA - AUGUST 25: Marco Di Vaio #9 of the Montreal Impact celebrates his first half goal by kissing his ring during the MLS match against the D.C. United at Saputo Stadium on August 25, 2012 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/Getty Images)

The Impact face the Columbus Crew on Saturday in what promises to be THE MLS GAME OF THE WEEK as it features two of the league’s hottest teams. In the standings, both squads are deadlocked at 39 points despite Columbus having three games in hand. As has been the case every week lately, this game will help determine whether or not Jesse Marsch’s men stand a chance at making the playoffs. Nothing less than 3 points will be acceptable from the road team.

Tough love!

Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier is one yellow away from earning a one game suspension while Crew defenseman Josh Williams is suspended for having picked up a red card earlier this week.

Starting XI:

Nelson Rivas steps out of the MLS Disciplinary Committee’s doghouse and is allowed to rejoin his teammates after completing his 3 game suspension. Marsch may make the switch to a modified 3-5-2 (as we saw against the Red Bulls earlier in late July) in order to have Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari and Rivas in the lineup.

According to the pre-game notes, Justin Mapp is listed as out due to his hamstring injury.

Probable starting lineup:

Troy Perkins

Matteo Ferrari – Nelson Rivas – Alessandro Nesta

Patrice Bernier - Collen Warner

Lamar Neagle - Jeb Brovsky

Felipe

Davy ArnaudMarco Di Vaio

Brovsky will be allowed to push the ball forward and support the attack as much as he’d like providing he hustles back to support the defense. Arnaud will act as a shadow striker, playing slightly behind Di Vaio.

Standings: It’s still a wide open race!!

1. Sporting KC 47 points 26 GP

2. NY Red Bulls 46 points 27 GP

3. Houston 42 points 26 GP

4. DC United 41 points 26 GP

5. Chicago 41 points 25 GP

6. Montreal 39 points 28 GP

7. Columbus 39 points 25 GP

Please help us!! Here are the results we need to cheer for this weekend:

* TFC needs to beat Sporting KC

* Real Salt Lake must beat DC United

* Houston and Chicago must play to a draw. Either team can win but a draw allows both teams to remain close to the Impact.

3 Questions with Massive Report

We’ve asked our friends at the Massive Report to help us get to know this weekend’s enemy. Here we go:

1. What an offensive powerhouse!! Jairo Arrieta, Eddie Gaven and Federico Higuain form one of the most dangerous attacking trios in the league. Since the arrival of Arrieta and Higuain, the Crew have come back to life and are in the playoff hunt. For those who don't know, how were Arrieta and Higuain added to the roster and how have they been able to make such a great impact so quickly? Can they be stopped?

Both have been on the Crew's radar for quite some time. Arrieta was signed on a free transfer in April, but had to wait until the window opened to join. Columbus made several approaches for Higuain, but eventually moved on. Other deals fell through and they turned back to him. They were able to resurrect the deal and get it done in less than a week, just under the wire.

As far as their immediate impact, it's pretty surprising that they have been able to play so well so soon. As far as I can tell, they truly were missing pieces. Arrieta is a tireless worker who can hold up the ball and work the channels. He's perfect as a lone forward. Higuain has been even more surprising, but the Crew have been lacking a player who can make things happen on offense. He controls the game so well. Arrieta and him are on the same page, but Gaven now has the freedom to not be the focus.


2. During their 5 game unbeaten streak, the Crew have beaten Philadelphia, New England and TFC. Those teams are not in the playoff hunt and are not known for their defensive strengths. Montreal's defense, however, has Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari, Nelson Rivas and Troy Perkins among others. Considering that the Impact are the hottest team in the MLS right now and the fact that their defense is one of the most talented, what will be the Crew's keys to victory?

Higuain. He's always the key. He's very good at finding space in between the lines and drifting wide. Zone markers have to be adept at making sure they track him. Even if Higuain is the focus, Arrieta and Gaven have provided goal scoring capabilities. The Crew are also now extremely dangerous on set pieces. Drawing fouls within 35 yards of goal now makes it an instant goal scoring opportunity.

In addition, the Crew have to rotate in some players for some fresh legs. Emilio Renteria hasn't seen much playing time, but can make a big impact against tired defenders. Justin Meram has also played out wide, setting up the 2nd goal on Wednesday.


3. What would you say are the Crew's weaknesses?

Columbus is a little unsettled on defense. They aren't quite as stout due to constant player rotations and a shifting formation. Josh Williams has been passable at left back, but he will likely be replaced by Nemanja Vukovic due to his red card. Vukovic hasn't played in nearly two months. It will also depend on who the goalkeeper is. Andy Gruenebaum has a balky back and may not be ready. Matt Lampson was solid, but is still a big drop off from Gruenebaum.


PLAYOFF SPECIAL: The Eastern Conference is still wide open. Which 5 teams do you see making the playoffs? Based on the selection, can you explain why you believe that Montreal will or won't make the playoffs?

Sporting Kansas City, New York Red Bulls, Houston Dynamo, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew.

I think the lack of games left is going to be the Impact's undoing. The Crew are tied with you, but still have three games in hand. The schedule is still favorable for the Crew. I see D.C. fading a bit too. Chicago lost some talent with Pappa leaving, but I think they have enough to hold on.

WHO DO YOU FEAR? Which Montreal Impact player should the Crew fear most?

Patrice Bernier, he makes things happen, much like Higuain. He can score and create. That's a dangerous combination and can certainly cause the Crew some problems.

Predicted starting XI, formation and final score.

GK: Gruenebaum

D: Miranda, Marshall, James, O'Rourke

M: Birchall, Mirosevic,

AM: Renteria, Higuain, Gaven

F: Arrieta

2-1 Crew

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