The Montreal Impact, going into their playoff matchup with Toronto FC in the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, were a confident bunch. Having just defeated their rivals in the final game of the regular season at Stade Saputo, carried by the tremendous play of Didier Drogba, there was no reason to believe the Impact wouldn't advance past the Reds.
As was expected, the Impact thoroughly outplayed Toronto, beating them 3-0 at Stade Saputo, eliminating Toronto early in their first taste of MLS Playoff action.
For the Impact's opponents, however, this defeat was not an easy pill to swallow. Toronto's front office, led by Tim Leiweike and Tim Bezbatchenko, injected high profile names into the first team; most notably the team's three DPs: Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. With Bradley in central midfield, Altidore as a classic No. 9, and Giovinco as a second forward behind Altidore, Toronto had no shortage of attacking options.
The main reason that Toronto fell short of their lofty expectations, however, was the supporting cast behind their expensive superstars. Last year, the rotation of Damien Perquis, Josh Williams, and Ahmed Kantari in the centre of defense simply was not good enough to shut down opposing attacks. Justin Morrow had a strong season at left-back, but the position of right fullback was one of great inconsistency for Toronto: Daniel Lovitz, Williams, and Jackson all seeing time in the position, with the latter being completely dominated by Ignacio Piatti in the playoffs. Goalkeeper Joe Bendik, while often compensating for his defense's lackluster coverages, was occasionally accountable for leaking some poor goals.
Toronto's new arrivals, rather than Europeans who would require some time to adjust to Major League Soccer, are MLS veterans. Toronto acquired Drew Moor and Clint Irwin from the Colorado Rapids, both of whom slot into the first team immediately, at center back and goalkeeper respectively. They acquired Steven Beitashour, one of the most consistent right backs in the entire league, from the Vancouver Whitecaps, as well as Canadian international Will Johnson form the Portland Timbers.
All four of these players address immediate needs in Toronto's starting 11, and do so by introducing proven, capable MLS players. Toronto was also able to introduce two key young players into their first team. They acquired Tsubasa Endoh in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft, as well as signed Mo Babouli from their USL affiliate.
These new additions give Toronto a very different appearance than the team Montreal beat in last year's playoffs. If Montreal wants to continue their hot streak against the Reds, it will be key not only to track Sebastian Giovinco at all times, which was done expertly by the pairing of Laurent Ciman and Victor Cabrera last season, but also to be aggressive in making attacking runs.
The new-look TFC defense is no pushover, and if the Impact want to score, it will be key to put the pressure on them early and often.
Who do you think will be in Montreal's starting 11 on Saturday?
Can the Impact once again top TFC?