The Montreal Impact will be looking to get back to back wins for Didier Drogba's potential first start in Major League Soccer against the Chicago Fire. The game also marks the first that Harry Shipp comes back to Chicago, his home. Under new coach Veljko Paunović, the Fire is not as predictable as one might think.
Mount Royal Soccer has turned towards our friends at Hot Time At Old Town to get some perspective on the Montreal - Chicago matchup.
1. It looks like the Fire have found a little more consistency to start the 2016 season. What positive steps did Chicago take in the off season to ensure success this season?
First of all, the team was pretty consistent last year. They were consistently letting in goals and losing games! It was one of the most frustrating seasons in the club's history.
They have started 2016 with some more consistently positive results and it has provided some optimism amongst the fanbase. The most obvious change is Veljko Paunović coming in as the team's new Head Coach and Nelson Rodriguez coming in as the new General Manager. The two have been brought in to form a partnership on and off the field and their success or failure with Chicago Fire will forever be linked.
They let a lot of veteran MLS players go from last season and have begun to build a young core. It seems there is a lot more effort and desire on the field this year and that has gone a long way in the first few games. Whether that is because of the motivation they have gained from the coaching staff or it is because they have something to prove on a new team (and for many in a new league), it is paying off while they build team chemistry.
2. Will the Fire miss Harry Shipp this season? What sort of reception do you expect he will receive in Chicago this weekend?
To this point in the season the club definitely would have benefited from Harry Shipp in the lineup. It is still baffling why Shipp was traded, but it isn't fair to judge Pauno and Rodriguez on the trade at this point. It is clear that they set about building the team with the May 11 roster deadline as the completion date. Rodriguez has already come out and said there are two signings on the way.
They are believed to be Michael de Leeuw and Khaly Thian, both midfielders with significant European pedigree. It has always been my opinion that if anyone deserved the benefit of the doubt on young players, it is Pauno. He won the U-20 World Cup with Serbia last year and he should understand how Shipp's talent compares to other, potentially younger, players across the globe.
I expect Chicago Fire fans to give Harry a warm reception on Saturday. Our fans have always supported the players that wear the Fire crest and very few held the club in such high regard as Shipp. He was and continues to be the consummate professional. It is hard to say the healing process is complete on either side of the trade, but Shipp understands the sport is a business and I cannot imagine he holds any ill-will towards the Fire supporters.
3. Who should the Impact defenders pay a little extra attention to this weekend?
Our biggest offensive weapon continues to be David Accam but it looks like he will continue to be sidelined a bit longer with his knee injury. Gilberto is likely to be the biggest offensive threat this weekend but could just as easily play a silent 70 minutes as he could score a goal. Igboananike could pose a physical test for the Impact backline but his lack of finishing should be comforting for Evan Bush.
John Goossens is still working towards 90 minute fitness but he could slot into the No. 10 role this weekend if Pauno deems he is ready. He showed in preseason that he has some magic (https://youtu.be/xYtwKDHG_Yg) and could help get the offense on track. I think he is the one to watch if he gets the start.
Bonus: What is it like having Frank Klopas as a colour commentator for Chicago Fire matches?
Honestly, I think it has been great. There were a lot of bittersweet feelings when Klopas was fired as Chicago Fire coach because he is a Chicago and club legend. It is great to hear some honest opinions from him and see that he really never lost his love for the club, though it never affected his professionalism as Montreal Impact Head Coach.
No need to mess to much with a lineup that is on the verge of setting a club record for minutes without conceding a goal. I think Pauno keeps the same lineup as the past two games with Goossens coming in to provide creative spark in place of Răzvan Cociș.
**One caveat: Pauno is open to changing personnel and formation for the opponent. It is conceivable he sees something in the Montreal roster that necessitates a change from the past two weeks.