Montreal can increase their points lead on Orlando from 4 to 7 on Saturday with a win at the Citrus Bowl. But they may have to do it without some key players. This will be the first time this season the Impact visit Orlando, having tied their first meeting in March 2-2 and then beating the Lions 2-0 in June - both at Stade Saputo.
MLS fans already know that collecting points on the road is difficult, but the Citrus Bowl in Orlando provides yet another challenge: the artificial turf.
The team is uncertain whether or not Didier Drogba will be available for selection due to his unfamiliarity with playing on artificial turf. If they do choose to keep the front-runner for Player of the Month out of the lineup on Saturday, the Impact have a couple (though less intimidating) options.
The easiest, and probably simplest, choice would be to play Dominic Oduro up top. Oduro played as the single striker regularly during CONCACAF play and before Drogba joined the team when he split time there with Jack McInerney. It might do some good to move him from the right side of the midfield where he has enjoyed earlier success but has recently been lackluster.
Two other options may be to have either Andres Romero or Johan Venegas fill in for Saturday's game at forward. Both have had experience playing the position in the past and could be very acceptable replacements for Drogba in the short-term. Impact fans have gotten used to seeing Romero on the wings, but he's proven to have a nose for the net and a good finishing touch.
However, a report from Le Journal de Montreal may make this a moot point:
"C'est sans Ignacio Piatti que l'Impact affrontera Orlando, samedi soir, en Floride."
Jeudi, 1 octobre, 2015.
With Piatti already not in the lineup at midfield, removing the likes of Oduro or Romero or Venegas may leave too big a void there. Mauro Biello's hand may be forced to start Romario Williams at forward (While Anthony Jackson-Hamel is with the Canadian U23s). Williams is not the obvious choice, but it may be tempting for Montreal's new bench boss to take this opportunity to give the first-rounder a start.
He may also consider returning to the 4-1-4-1 formation in order to insulate Williams a little more, thereby giving him two central attacking midfielders with the freedom to push forward instead of one. Marco Donadel's apparent comfort as a single holding midfielder may make this possible. Biello has shown he's not afraid to make subtle changes, and the silver lining to Drogba's absence is that he may have no choice but to experiment with Williams being the beneficiary.
The Impact's defense, on the other hand, has a panoply of options. With Laurent Ciman coming back from suspension, the question now becomes who will be on his side. Hassoun Camara may have played himself into the lineup with his play last Saturday. The cause for concern with Camara is that the strengths he showed are also his weaknesses. Camara's tackles and physical play were perfect, not giving up any free kicks in dangerous areas or being carded. That's something Impact fans aren't sure they can count on on a week-to-week basis.
Both Victor Cabrera and Wandrille Lefevre are the other potential options, but the occasional (albeit small) error they are prone to making may be the difference in an away game for a team without its most dangerous offensive weapon. Especially when Cyle Larin is having more than just an average season.
Earlier in the season playing for a draw on the road without key players may have been the right thing to do, but the Impact have developed a taste for winning and may have even found a new identity under Biello as aggressors. Look for the Impact to push the game in Orlando rather than sit back and absorb pressure.