This weekend, Montreal Impact travels out west for the second time in a month, this time to meet the Seattle Sounders in MLS action.
Sounders, one of only three MLS clubs over which Montreal has a better head to head record, winning 3 and losing 2, across 6 all-time meetings, has not begun the season well.
Much speculation and intrigue surround the line-ups for each side, Saturday. Consequently, it’s a match where predicting the outcome is quite tricky.
Seattle come into this one, goalless in MLS play, while Montreal continues to show improvement under Remi Garde, who’s been busy in the transfer-market, and seems to be finding his MLS feet with some certainty.
Garde’s selection troubles have eased with the acquisitions of Rod Fanni, Alejandro Silva and Rudy Camacho, and it will be interesting to see his equation for victory, against an opponent that has its top striker suspended. Clint Dempsey scored the game’s only goal the last time these two met at CenturyLink Field two years ago, but a controversial dismissal in the first half in Dallas two weeks ago, rules him out of this Sunday’s meeting.
Despite victory over Toronto FC, Garde is likely to find a place in his line-up for new Uruguayan, Alejandro Silva. Ken Krolicki is the likely casualty. But it’s still not clear what formation Garde will settle upon, and Silva for Krolicki is not a straight swap. Having surprised everyone with how he set the side up to meet Toronto, it’s become a huge guessing game before this one, especially given the extra players at his disposal.
In defense there must be a temptation to retain the five-man unit which performed so well against the MLS Champions, earning Montreal a first shut-out since mid-August, however new signing Rudy Camacho is clearly a huge part of the coach’s plans going forward, and a central defensive slot will, sooner or later, be his. He may have to make do with the bench on Saturday though.
Provided Petrasso has recovered from what appeared to be a minor knock in his national team outing last Saturday, all five defenders may well get the coach’s vote of confidence. Should Garde decide to revert to a flat back four, Raitala is the likely casualty. That would mean Fanni and Cabrera continuing in the center, for at least one more game together, despite Camacho’s availability.
PIATTI & VARGAS AGAIN?
It’s conceivable the front two of Piatti and Vargas, which worked well against TFC, will remain, but receive additional support from Silva on the right. Taider may find himself with extra defensive duties to support the new man’s inclusion. Silva is likely to play in a more advanced midfield role than what Krolicki did.
Remi Garde is nothing if not a thinking man’s coach, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if his game-plan throws us all, once again. Just be prepared for something different.
Still missing influential play-maker Osvaldo Alonso (quad injury), Seattle have had a poor start to MLS-play and will want to put that right. No goals scored in two games, with 4 conceded, is perhaps not so surprising for a team which failed to finish either of its two matches with eleven on the field.
The second game, a 0-3 loss at Dallas, came only three days after returning heavily defeated in Champions League play, from Guadalajara. The Sounders looked tired and deflated.
They’ve fiddled around with personnel in their always 4-2-3-1 line-up in trying to juggle with the two competitions, and rested key players in their MLS-opener, against Los Angeles FC, with Chivas lying in wait. So, MLS form, thus far, perhaps should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Chad Marshall and Ramon Torres (in last 3 games his defense has conceded 12 goals, including last weekend on Panamanian duty in Switzerland), resume their partnership in defense. Svensson and Roldan will be the protectors just in front, and midfield attacking intent should come from Lodeiro, and Eikrem and any one from Wingo, Bwana or Shipp, the former Impact player.
In place of Dempsey up front, Will Bruin (4 career goals v Impact) will start if recovered from a recent concussion. Alternatively, if not fit, Impact old-boy Lamar Neagle is likely to be the choice.
Two key battles may determine the outcome of the contest. Chad Marshall for Sounders, is one of the most effective stoppers in MLS, and will need to be in top shape against Ignacio Piatti, Montreal’s one-on-one specialist.
But an equally important factor will be how well Magnus Wolff Eikrem, a former Manchester United youngster and Nicolas Lodeiro, fare against Piette and Taider, whom I expect will have joint-policing responsibilities on the creative Seattle midfielders.
Lodeiro has been missing recently due to a foot sprain but is expected to return to meet the Impact.
Seattle projected starting line-up - GK: Stefan Frei - Kelvin Leerdam, Roman Torres, Chad Marshall, Nouhou Tolo – Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson – Harry Shipp, Nicolas Lodeiro, Magnus Wolff Eikrem – Will Bruin
Montreal projected starting line-up - GK: Evan Bush — Michael Petrasso, Victor Cabrera, Rod Fanni, Jukka Raitala, Daniel Lovitz — Alejandro Silva, Samuel Piette, Saphir Taider - Ignacio Piatti, Jeisson Vargas.
Prediction – Montreal to come home with at least a point. Seattle is still struggling for momentum, and to overcome injury constraints upon their squad.
Impact will have derived great strength from their victory over Toronto, when they looked confident, assured and aware of a clear game-plan. While the game-plan against Seattle will be just as meticulous, doubt remains over those two other components. This after all, is Impact on the road.
SERIES FACTS & FEATS
Montreal leads the series (6 matches) with 3 wins and 2 losses.
At CenturyLink Field, where the clubs have met twice, honors are even, each winning once, by 1-0.
Apps, Goals, Assists
Only one man has played in all six matches in the series: Patrice Bernier making 4 starts and appearing twice from the bench. For Seattle no-one has appeared in more than 4 games against the Impact: Chad Marshall (who should make it 5 on Sat), Osvaldo Alonso (still at the club but unlikely to play, Sat), and Andy Rose, who now plays his trade with Motherwell FC in Scotland.
Patrice Bernier is also the top assist provider in the series with 5. No other has more than 1, which is shared by 7 players.
The only player to have scored more than once in the series is Lamar Neagle. Lamar has 2 goals, one for each club. If either of Piatti, Mancosu (both Montreal), Lodeiro or Bruin (both Seattle) scores once on Sat, they will join Neagle as joint-top series scorer.
Sigi Schmid has been in charge of Seattle for 5 of its 6 encounters with Montreal. No coach from Montreal has been in charge any more than twice.
Mauro Biello (2 matches) is the only Montreal coach never to have tasted victory over Seattle.
Troy Perkins and Evan Bush have 1 shut-out each against Seattle, but Seattle’s Stefan Frei leads the series with 2. Troy Perkins has appeared in the series for both teams.
The only red card issued between the teams was in the very first meeting at Stade Saputo in 2012. Card was issued to Jhon Hurtado in the 56th minute of play.
The 2012 meeting was also the first-ever MLS game to be played at Stade Saputo and produced the highest scoring match in the series. Montreal won 4-1.
Sounders & CenturyLink Field -
Since coming into MLS in 2009, Seattle has tasted success on multiple occasions – MLS Cup (1), MLS Supporters Shield (1), Lamar Hunt US Open Cup (4), MLS Western Conference (2), MLS Western Conference Regular Season (1).
CenturyLink Field is one of the best attended of all MLS venues. Seattle commanded an average league attendance last season of 43,622 (quite a few English Premier League clubs would be delighted with that). Their highest attendance in 2017 was 51,796 on August 27, v Portland Timbers. And the lowest? 40,182 v Atlanta United on March 31. Not bad going at all!