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Pregame Buzz: St Patrick to Smile on The Impact . . . ?

A Preview of tomorrow’s 20/401 Derby

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Montreal Impact at Toronto FC
Altidore v Cabrera - always a key battle in Impact - TFC match-ups.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Where there’s life, . . . . . there’s hope!

Who knows, should Impact’s second-half display from Columbus be replicated from the first whistle at “The Big O”, Saturday (St Patrick’s Day, no less), hope may even turn to expectation!

Enough has already been written about last week, so suffice to say Impact fans at the home opener will want to see their team stride confidently through the opening minutes, be brave with the ball, and dictate the tempo.

Montreal has not come close to making that happen in the first two MLS outings of the season, and it won’t get any easier against the MLS Champions, but sooner or later, this new group of players needs to garner belief.

And, there’s no time like the present!

Suggestions they are meeting Toronto at the right time are not necessarily in left-field. How often has it played out in the beautiful game, where it’s harder to defend a title than to win it the first time? How often in football, has a club achieved a mammoth (perhaps unexpected) result (as Toronto so thrillingly did in midweek), only to falter unexpectedly in their next game?

MLS: Columbus Crew at Toronto FC
Greg Vanney - Will be warning his charges against complacency.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

At yesterday morning’s press conference at BMO Field, the exchange between reporters, coach Greg Vanney, and players, Tosaint Ricketts and Drew Moor focused more on the CONCACAF semi-final, opponents Club America, and playing at the famed Azteca, than it did on Saturday’s 20/401-Derby.

When Moor said in his opening response, “As soon as the final whistle blew in Monterrey, our thoughts turned directly to . . . . . ,“ of course I was expecting him to say, “ . . . Montreal,” but the words he uttered, were, “ . . . . Clube America.”

Clube America weren’t even through yet!

We’ve seen similar behavior from the Toronto club as recently as two weeks ago, when the extravagant, pre-match parading of trophies, won LAST season, clearly deflected players’ mindsets away from the job in hand, Columbus eventually running out clear winners.

Tigres UANL v Toronto FC - CONCACAF Champions League 2018
Michael Bradley led Toronto to a huge performance midweek in Monterrey. Will there be a hangover?
Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images

It will be interesting to see how much TFC’s trip and herculean effort in Mexico affects them. Remi Garde in public, rightly disregards this aspect, cleverly offering that Toronto is a team used to playing big matches. Privately though, the huge game Toronto played midweek will enter into his planning. Of that, you can be sure.

What may also be significant is that Montreal has finished each of its matches this season looking the fitter, better conditioned side.


TEAM NEWS -

Relatively-speaking, Montreal has a clean bill of health (minus the long-term injuries everyone knows about). However, Greg Vanney will be more tested regarding team selection, as Toronto FC attempts leave Stade Olympique, without defeat for the first time ever (played 3, lost 3).

Two players, Chris Mavinga, Reds’ best defender on the night, and Justin Morrow, were forced to leave the field through injury, Tuesday, and while Mavinga looks set to make the line-up, Morrow (tight calf) probably will not.

Vanney has also been critical of the Stade Olympique turf, labelling it “dangerous” after the 2016 Conference semi-final, and may ponder on the exclusions of Victor Vazquez (back problems) and possibly, Jozy Altidore. The big American has a history of muscle injuries and might be a candidate for rest.

Altidore’s exclusion would be foolhardy though. He’s scored more goals against Montreal than any other MLS club, including 6 in 8 MLS Regular Season matches. And when he’s not taking them, he’s making them, mainly for his skillful side-kick, Sebastien Giovinco.

Between, them, the Beauty and the Beast (you can work out which is which), have plundered 11 goals against the Impact, in 8 MLS Regular Season games in which they’ve been paired together. Tellingly, when Toronto fell 3-5, to Montreal, towards the end of last season, neither front man played.

Despite the doubts, I think Vanney will go with his trusted double spearhead. Should Altidore be rested, expect Tosaint Ricketts to deputize.

Toronto projected starting line-up - GK: Alex BonoEriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund — Auro, Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, Ager Aketxe, Ashtone MorganSebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore

For Montreal, I expect last week’s starting line-up to be given a vote of confidence, with the notable inclusion of new-signing Rod Fanni, a player who will be undaunted in the atmosphere of a 20/401 Derby. Jukka Raitala will revert to the bench. That means no place for Raheem Edwards after his stunning strike last week, although coach Remi Garde may sleep on the option of using the former Toronto player, or Jeisson Vargas in midfield.

Parma FC v Olympique de Marseille - Pre-Season Frienldy
Rod Fanni - Montreal’s new capture from France is no stranger to big derby matches.
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Montreal projected starting line-up - GK: Evan Bush — Michael Petrasso, Victor Cabrera, Rod Fanni, Daniel Lovitz — Samuel Piette— Jeisson Vargas, Ken Krolicki, Saphir Taider, Ignacio PiattiMatteo Mancosu

A prediction? St Patrick to smile down on Montreal, who may sneak a victory, but won’t lose this one!


Some Series Facts & Feats -

This will be the 33rd meeting of the teams in all competitions since 2012, when Impact entered MLS. Montreal has won 10, Toronto 14, with 8 matches drawn. Montreal 44 gaols. Toronto 51.

In actual MLS Regular Season play, Saturday will be the 18th encounter. Montreal has 5 victories in the series, Toronto 8, with four tied games. Montreal 21 goals, Toronto 29.

Goals -

Ignacio Piatti is Montreal’s top scorer in the series, with 6 goals, split equally between Stade Saputo and BMO Field. Three others in Montreal colours have more than one goal in the series; Drogba, Di Vaio and Anthony Jackson-Hamel on 2 apiece.

Jozy Altidore is Toronto’s top scorer and shares the series record with Piatti on 6. Identical to Piatti, he’s managed three goals at each venue. Giovinco has 5, all but one of those coming at Stade Saputo. Tosaint Ricketts is also on the board with 3.

At Stade Olympique -

This will be Toronto FC’s third visit to the Big O, from where they have never escaped undefeated. Montreal recorded their first MLS victory (2-1) over Toronto in 2012 at Stade Olympique, followed it up a year later by winning on St Patrick’s weekend, and won the 1st Leg of the Conference final there in 2016.

Montreal has an impressive record at Stade Olympique especially considering some of the major contests hosted at the venue. They’ve recorded 8 wins, 8 ties and only three defeats in 19 previous encounters. Last visiting team to win was Clube America in the Champions League Final. Only two MLS sides have left victorious, the last being Seattle Sounders in 2014, the first NYRB in 2012.

Montreal’s top scorer in games at the stadium, not surprisingly is Nacho Piatti with 4. Three other current squad members have also been on the mark for Montreal at the venue; Matteo Mancosu (2), Dominic Oduro (2) and Victor Cabrera (1).

2-1, 2-1, 2-1 -

All three home victories over Toronto in MLS have ended with a score-line of 2-1. So anyone intending a correct score bet . . .

Coaches -

Greg Vanney will be taking charge of Toronto for the 11th time (W5 – D2 – L3) against Montreal Impact (MLS Regular Season only). Montreal’s most frequent coach was Mauro Biello (W3 – D1 – L3). Frank Klopas was the only Montreal coach not to taste an MLS victory over Toronto (4 attempts).

Only coach to remain unbeaten in the series was Paul Mariner (TFC). The former England international was up against Jesse Marsch in two matches in 2012.

Jeepers! Keepers!

Only two Montreal goalkeeper have kept clean sheets in MLS play against Toronto. Troy Perkins (2012) and Evan Bush (2016) both achieved the feat at BMO Field. Toronto has scored on every MLS visit to Montreal.

Toronto ‘keepers have fared somewhat better, with no fewer than 5 (3 at Stade Saputo) claiming shut-outs against Montreal: Joe Bendik (2) Clint Irwin, Alex Bono, Freddy Hall, and Milos Kocic..

The Man In The Middle -

Tomorrow’s man in the middle is Robert Sibiga. It will be his first appearance at Stade Olympique, although he’s taken charge of 4 games at Stade Saputo.

He’s handled 6 previous Impact games (W2 – D2 – L2), yellow carding 11 Impact players, and 7 opponents. He red-carded Chris Duvall last season in a 1-1 tie at Sporting Kansas and has shown red to two opponents, both in 2016; Kofi Opare of DC United, and in the Conference Playoff 1st Leg game against NYRB, Omer Damari.

Rather peculiarly, Impact has scored 1 goal in each of the six matches they’ve been involved in, refereed by Robert Sibiga.

Polish-born and out of Carmel, New York, Robert has been officiating in MLS since June 2015.