The first time Montreal Impact ever went head to head with Chicago Fire there were 58,912 at the Big “O” to witness proceedings. Tomorrow evening at Tampa Bay you might get the 912, but not the other 58,000.
It’s pre-season friendly time, and that’s what you get, when two MLS teams meet at a neutral venue.
The two clubs are looking to improve on what for each turned out to be a disappointing 2017. At least The Men in Red had a decent regular season, they just flopped badly when it came to the Play-In (I would call it Play-off) match when they were drubbed 0-4 at home by New York Red Bulls.
In the head to head record between the two, there’s little to separate. Impact just edge it with 6 wins to Fire’s 5. There’s been 5 draws.
Both sides will have an unfamiliar look about them, Wednesday evening with many new players on display. Impact are likely to start again with Petrasso and Diallo in defence, with maybe a run out from the “off”, for Raitala, possibly in for Daniel Lovitz. If this trio don’t start, they will certainly feature at some stage.
In midfield we should get another look at Taider, Vargas and Edwards, accompanying Nacho Piatti, while up front striking duties should be shared between Matteo Mancosu and Anthony Jackson-Hamel, if fit to play. Expect to see only one of these guys on the field at the same time, they’ll probably see a half each.
Montreal has one pre-season game behind them, Chicago, two. Both had 2-0 road victories in their openers; Montreal at Las Vegas Lights, Saturday, and Chicago at University of Southern Florida (a week before), when 2017 MLS Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic opened his 2018 account with a goal in the 40th minute.
The Men in Red also faced MLS opposition, last Thursday, tying, in a scoreless stalemate with Philadelphia Union, who paraded former Fire play-maker David Accam.
Neither German legend and DP, Bastien Schweinsteiger, a target for the Ultras Boo-Boys on his last Montreal visit, nor current US-international Matt Polster, have been seen at pre-season just yet. Using Schweinsteiger sparingly to get the best from him is probably the right tactic for Chicago, and Polster’s off-time is likely down to being summoned to the US MNT’s January camp.
But Montreal can expect to face at least a half, probably the first-half, of top marksman Nikolic. At HT, Fire made 10 substitutions against Phillie, and Wednesday night should see a similar pattern.
Old favourite Dax McCarty is expected to start, along with Johan Kappelhof, graduate of the Ajax Amsterdam Academy and recognized as the club’s top central defender. Polster’s starting place is likely to go to Brandon Vincent, as it has in the previous two outings.
It’s fair to say it’s all about conditioning and fitness at this stage of the season. Most coaches seem to have read the same text-book when it comes to pre-season quotes – “First and second phases went well. I’m very happy with the group. They’ve worked hard. We’re on schedule, and this next phase is all about getting sharper.”
We’ve heard similar from Remi Garde, and this is how Veljko Paunovic summed things up after the 0-0 with Philadelphia, adding, “We did really well defensively, but need to improve in attack.” As obvious as day and night!
Yes, very difficult to find a quote without the cloak of blandness attached pre-season, but understandable at the same time.
Neither forwards Luis Solignac or Dutchman Michael De Leeuw have featured yet in pre-season either for Chicago, but could make their 2018 bow against the Impact.
Latest signing on loan from La Liga club Deportivo Alaves, Aleksander Katai (27) could also play a part. The Serbian, despite featuring regularly for his club in 2016/17, has fallen out of favor, with only three appearances this season. Chicago will be hoping to reap dividends on a player, fresh and chomping at the bit for first team soccer.
Montreal can expect to play on a much better surface than the rather compact and patchy flooring they had to contend with, Saturday. Hopefully that helps with the flow of the game, although expecting a pre-season friendly to flow when each team makes so many changes is like wishing for a miracle.
All about fitness, conditioning and team-building at this stage. Sure, it’s nice to win, but the result will be only secondary and won’t represent anything significant.
It will be a nice relief to get back to the real business of MLS, early March . . . . .