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Pre-game Buzz: Success in Columbus - A Tall Order!

Impact seeks to rip-up the Form-book!

MLS: Montreal Impact at Vancouver Whitecaps
Big responsibility for Piette (white shirt) and Taider in marshalling Federico Huguain
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

As a struggling outfit, trying to reverse a club record-equaling, MLS losing streak, at six, the last thing you probably want is to visit a venue where you have fared worse than any other, but one.

In Montreal’s six years as an MLS club, they have played nine regular season games at MAPFRE Crew Stadium. The best results have been one win (2-0 in June 2015) and two tied games in 2016. There have been 6 defeats, and an extra-time play-off defeat on top of that!

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC
MAPFRE Crew Stadium - Rarely a happy hunting ground for Montreal teams . . .
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Notably however, Montreal has lost only one of the previous four in MLS regular season play. Remi Garde will wish to draw inspiration from this latter detail, rather than from an overall perspective.

But if the stats present a daunting prospect, then the make-up of the current Columbus Crew only serves to underline.

They have gone nine at home, stretching back to July last year, since Atlanta United were the last side to leave Ohio with all three points, showed serious intent in losing narrowly to Toronto in last year’s Conference Final, and returned to the scene of the crime just last weekend to comfortably depose the 2017 MLS Cup Champions, scoring twice without reply.

The inspiration six days ago, a player needing no introduction to Impact fans, was Federico Higuain. Higuain has been a constant in yellow and black since 2013. A playmaker of perpetual motion and supreme technique, he has been arguably the most consistent performer in MLS throughout that time. A wonderful talent with intelligence and fluidity aplenty.

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Columbus Crew at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Not unlike last weekend’s main threat, Kei Kamara, the Argentinian has enjoyed matches against Montreal Impact, and to date leads the 18-game series in goals (7) and assists (5) (Ignacio Piatti, another Argentinian of course, is next best for Montreal on 5 and 2 respectively, although it should be noted, Dominic Oduro has 6 goals and 2 assists in the series, divided equally between the clubs).

It will not be lost on the likes of Saphir Taider and Sam Piette, this is a player that needs to be shackled, if Montreal is to emerge with anything from the 90 minutes. Experience has proven however, it’s easier said than done!

Another player who looked re-born on the BMO “paddy-field” last Saturday was Gyasi Zardes. The former LA Galaxy striker after a season-long form crisis, looked rejuvenated in his first game with his new club. Once again, he resembled the danger-man of old, and struck clinically and effortlessly within a minute of the re-start, doubling Crew’s lead.

Zardes and World Cup bound, Panamanian, Christian Martinez, each benefitting from Higuain’s midfield promptings, caused the Toronto rearguard problems, and Montreal will need to deal with this threat of pace and precision.

MLS: Columbus Crew at Toronto FC
Zardes - Impressive performance last weekend, and a goal!
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Toronto midfield diamond last weekend was not as effective as Greg Vanney would’ve hoped, and allowed too much space to the likes of Higuain and Artur in Columbus’ engine room. Montreal’s five-man midfield is unlikely to contribute to such a scenario.

It’s expected that notable Crew absentees from last Saturday; Mike Grella and Gaston Sauro, will not return for duty against The Impact, but one player to keep an eye out for is 19-year-old defender, Milton Valenzuela, yet another Argentinian, he’s a recent signing from Newell’s Old Boys, and current u20 international.

Valenzuela debuted in Toronto last weekend, and got forward tellingly, to create the opening goal of the MLS season for fellow-countryman Higuain. The young left-sided defender is a talent, still merely potential at this point, but will consider MLS a stage from which to springboard onto further success.

Remi Garde has his own equations to mull over. Does he include new arrival, Rod Fanni at centre-back? If so, is there a place for Jukka Raitala? My answer to that poser leans towards the negative. How can you leave out Daniel Lovitz after his performance in Vancouver? Nice problem for the coach though. He’d like a few more of those in the embryonic days of this season, I’m sure!

MLS: Montreal Impact at Vancouver Whitecaps
Mike Petrasso - could he start in midfield this weekend?
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The other preponderances for Garde are in central midfield (does he continue with Krolicki, or slot-in the more adventurous Vargas? I hope he risks the latter) and wide right (persevere with Edwards, who clearly looked unsuited there against Vancouver, or play Petrasso further up-field and slot Duvall into his customary right-back berth? Or . . . does Oduro come in from the cold?)

I am prepared to be proven wrong, but I see a 2-1 home victory and more road disappointment for Montreal.

A few series facts to ponder -

Including two post-season Play-off games, Montreal has met Columbus Crew 18 times since becoming an MLS club. They have won 6, lost 9, and tied 3 times, scoring 25 times to Crew’s 30.

Federico Higuan leads appearances in the series, starting in 15 of the 18 games between the clubs. Team-mate Ethan Finlay joins him on that number, although 4 of his games involved an introduction from the bench. Patrice Bernier on 14 apps (11+3) leads the way for Montreal.

Evan Bush leads the series with 3 shut-outs (1 at Crew Stadium). Two Crew ‘keepers have two shiut-outs each: Andy Gruenebaum and Steve Clark.

Four players have played for each club against the other: Tyson Wahl (MTL – 1, CLB – 10), Dominic Oduro (6 – 3), Dilly Duka (5 – 2) and Jack McInerney (4 -1). Montreal’s former defender Shaun Francis also appeared once for Columbus against Montreal, and should Jukka Raitala play Saturday, his name will be added to those who’ve represented each club in the series. Jukka has previously faced Montreal twice in yellow/black.

Remi Garde’s first game in charge against Columbus will be Gregg Berhalter’s thirteenth against Montreal as Crew coach.

Frank Klopas is the only Montreal coach to have a better than 50% record over Columbus, winning 3 and losing 2 of his five games against the Crew.

For the Crew, Robert Warzycha has a 3-1-1 record. Brian Bliss, in charge for only one match in September 2013, is the only coach to have a 100% record in the series. Columbus won his only game in charge against the Impact 2-1. Berhalter is 4-2-4 (5-2-5, including post-season).

The most frequently occurring scoreline between the sides at Crew Stadium is 2-0 home win. It’s happened 3 times.

Montreal has conceded the opening goal three times within the first six minutes at Crew Stadium, and has gone on to lose each game (0-2. 0-2, 1-3 AET). The earliest goal conceded was in the second minute in the middle game of the three, scored by Ethan Finlay.

The longest winless streak in the series is 5 by the Montreal Impact (1 Sept 2012 – 19 July 2014). This will be equaled on Saturday, should Columbus avoid defeat.

Montreal has only once before lost 7 straight, since entering MLS, in the horrible 2014 season. Should they lose on Saturday, this unwanted record will be equaled, . . . and it will be the first time they’ll have lost 7 MLS matches in a row.