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Impact vs New York City FC: Q & A with Hudson River Blue

The Montreal Impact return to Stade Saputo on Sunday evening to welcome the first place side in the Eastern Conference New York City FC.

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Impact will be looking for three home points against the first place team in the Eastern Conference Sunday evening against NYCFC. A victory for the Impact could see them come to within one point of the top team in the East with two matches in hand. The last meeting between these two teams came back at the end of April (1-1 final) with Dominic Oduro scoring a goal in the 91st minute at Yankee Stadium.

The Impact will be without leading scorer Ignacio Piatti (suspension), 2015 MLS Defender of the Year Laurent Ciman (injury), and Donny Toia (injury). However, on the positive side Dider Drogba will return to the lineup to face NYCFC.

Mount Royal Soccer has turned towards our friends at Hudson River Blue to get some perspective on the game.

1. What has been the biggest difference between this years New York City FC team and the team from the 2015?
A. There are a few valid answers to this kind of question, but to me it's consistency. In my opinion, consistency across the board - whether we are talking about the personnel on the field, the play of those on the field, or the combinations in our lineup - has made all the difference this year. If you look back to the start of last season and what issues the club was facing, it wouldn't have been difficult to see that we were going to struggle in retrospect. Kreis was working with an incomplete lineup, awaiting the arrival of a Frank Lampard who was out of form and had to be played. The team gave Kreis Pirlo in the meantime, who had issues adjusting to MLS and was asked to do things Andrea Pirlo doesn't like to do. If you couple our DP debacle last season with the fact that Kreis was working with an undermanned roster, one that he continued to tinker with (especially defensively) week to week, and it becomes understandable why we had problems.

Fast forward to this year's training camp, in which Vieira had a full compliment of players, time to work on a strategy, and two of his three DPs invested in the team (Frank was still struggling with injury). The team addressed the areas of the roster that were lacking, bringing in experienced talent to fill gaps and taking calculated risks in defense that would pay off. There have been ups and downs so far this season, but it appears that we have finally found a way to include all of our DPs in the team in an effective way, put out a back four that plays collectively and in unison, and play a formation and a style of soccer that lends itself to our strengths. At the root of it all, the consistency among the players, coaches and tactics are at the core of our success this season. 

2. We hear a lot of hype about the NYCFC designed players. Which designated player has performed best over the course of the 2016 MLS season?
This is finally a little more of a question than it has been in the past, as David Villa was far and away the team's best player in 2015. He's been our best performer again this season, but Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard are both contributing to the team and working hard in games this season. Lampard has come on strong since his returning from his ankle injury, He's played in 10 matches so far with the team, and while the results were rocky at first, the team has won four of its last five with him in the starting line up, Lamps has also scored four in his last five, making excellent runs into dangerous areas and showing a nose for the goal that is reminiscent of his Chelsea days.

Pirlo has also been a consistent calming presence in our midfield this season, starting 18 matches for the team in a central role. This season he looks to be in much better shape, benefiting from some rest in the off season. He has developed a better rapport with his fellow midfielders, and is starting to pick out those killer balls that made him famous.

While Pirlo and Lampard are finally playing up to the standards we always expected, David Villa is still the star and leader of this NYC FC team. He has been outperforming expectations since day one, at times single-handedly keeping NYC in games with spectacular goals or assists. You don't have to dig too deeply into the stats to find his value either: Villa has scored 12 goals in 20 appearances this season already to lead MLS and has 30 in his first 50 MLS games. Villa is a vocal leader on the team and has embraced his role as the steward for our young players, especially Jack Harrison. He has been everything a DP signing of his caliber should be in MLS.

3. Who is one New York City FC player that the Montreal Impact defense will need to pay extra close attention to on Sunday evening?
I want to say Ronald Matarrita, but he's 50-50 for this game and I expect he comes off the bench if he plays at all. Instead, I'll go with attacking midfielder Jack Harrison, NYC FC's rookie and Superdraft first pick, who has come into the team in recent weeks and played exceptionally well. At only 19, Jack has shown a lot of maturity in his game, playing under control and frequently picking out the right pass. He has above average speed in the midfield, and makes dangerous runs down the flank, exposing defenders in the process. He has a really high work rate, which comes in handy as he is asked to cover back for the likes of Lampard and Pirlo. He consistently plays excellent balls into the box for the likes of Villa and Lampard to jump onto, and found his scoring touch recently with a beauty two weeks back. Jack is quickly becoming a fan favorite, and the Impact defense would be wise not to lose him for a second as he can make teams pay - Just ask Union. 

— Predicted starting lineup and result.

Saunders; Hernandez, Mena, Brillant, Allen; Iraola, Pirlo, Lampard; McNamara, Villa, Harrison

After losing to Sporting KC, NYC FC gets back on the horse early in this one and survives with a 2-1 victory. Villa and Tommy Mac bag goals for the away side, Oduro gets one for the home team.

*A big thanks to Jake Gofman at Hudson River Blue for taking the time to contribute to this article.