The glamour of LA rolls into town, Saturday, with three Impact old boys in their party.
It will be a home-coming of sorts for assistant coach Marco Dos Santos, while former fan favourite, Laurent Ciman and Callum Mallace are expected with the visitors, to face an Impact side aiming to avoid a sixth straight loss at their Stade Saputo home!
It’s the season-opener at the outdoor venue. Encouragingly for the Impact, in the past these occasions have been kind to the home team, winning 4, tying 1 and losing only once. That solitary loss came in 2016, when two Giovinco goals sent the points west, to Ontario.
Like Montreal, LAFC have spent much time on the road since the season began. They’ve yet to play at their new, almost finished, Banc of California home, while Saturday will only be Montreal’s second game in front of home fans in 2018.
LA has fared better of the two on their travels, with three wins and a couple of reverses, but those defeats saw 9 goals conceded, and question marks arising over the defence. After the 0-5 defeat at Atlanta, Bob Bradley changed from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-2-1, adding a tweak towards the defensive side. A 2-0 success at Vancouver last week ensued.
One of three danger-men to watch out for is play-maker and former Arsenal midfielder Carlos Vela, who spent the previous 7 seasons at Real Sociedad in La Liga. The club’s first-ever DP, Vela has quickly struck up a potent partnership with Diego Rossi. Uruguayan u20 international, Rossi arrived as the club’s second DP, and between the pair, they have combined for 5 goals already this season, four in the first three games.
Marcos Urena (28), who should be in Russia with Costa Rica in the summer, is the spearhead of the attack. No goals yet but he’s assisted goals for both DP’s.
How Montreal will line-up on Saturday is still a guessing game, as injuries and suspensions disappear. It might still be a week too early for Michael Petrasso, but one man sure to return to the side is key midfielder Saphir Taider. This will help enormously a midfield, horribly over-run last week in New Jersey.
Will it be a formation similar to the one that defeated Toronto in Impact’s only previous home game? Most fans will suggest that while 5-3-2 was highly effective that day, it’s not been all that wonderful in subsequent outings.
And although it may be the most effective way to deal with a side that likes to possess the ball and attack, injury to Rod Fanni may force Remi Garde towards 4-4-2, with Duvall and Raitala either side of the central defensive pairing.
In a four-man midfield, Montreal will be hoping to find cohesive understanding between Taider and Silva. Their previous attempt to get minutes together was of course, thwarted early by the Algerian’s dismissal at Foxborough.
They will face midfield anchors in old Sporting Kansas foe, Benny Feilhaber, and 23 year-old Torontorian, Mark Kaye. Kaye was plucked from USL soccer while playing for Louisville City. There’s been no game time yet this season for Montreal’s former midfield man, Calum Mallace.
Two other notables formerly of Canadian rivals Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps, are likely to line up for LA: Steven Beitashour has been in creative mode this season, contributing three assists, and Jordan Harvey, who made his first LA start against his former club last weekend.
But it’s the Mexico/Costa Rica/Uruguay triumvirate of Vela, Urena and Rossi, that must be shackled if Montreal are to garner points from this one.
For Impact, Jeisson Vargas has shown an eye for goal, registering in three of his last four games. Remarkably, he will be one of perhaps up to 7 starters making their Stade Saputo bow.
Impact fans will be hoping their new stars find their new home more welcoming than their returning “old boys” on Saturday.
That horrible run of five straight defeats at the venue is just screaming to be snapped!
Impact Projected Starting XI
(4-4-2, right to left)
GK: Evan Bush — Chris Duvall, Rudy Camacho, Victor Cabrera, Jukka Raitala — Alejandro Silva, Samuel Piette, Saphir Taider, Ken Krolicki — Jeisson Vargas, Ignacio Piatti
Projected Starting XI
(3-4-2-1, right to left)
GK: Tyler Miller — Dejan Jakovic, Walker Zimmerman, Laurent Ciman — Steven Beitashour, Benny Feilhaber, Mark-Antony Kaye, Jordan Harvey — Marco Urena, Carlos Vela – Diego Rossi
Prediction – I expect Montreal to hold their own, despite probably not quite being at the same level as LA, at this stage of their respective developments. Garde however, as in the success over Toronto, will have a plan, and the lift provided by a Stade Saputo opener will score some points over a travel-weary opponent possessing the potential to leak goals.
Much will depend on how Cabrera and Camacho dovetail in central defence against LA’s smart front men, but Montreal can come away from this one with a point, or points.
Man in the Middle -
Saturday’s ref is Allen Chapman.
The 43 year-old from Utah has been refereeing in MLS since 2012. He became the first Video Assistant Referee involved in a professional match in North America, performing the role in a USL game in New Jersey in August 2016.
Unlike many who enter the refereeing profession, Mr Chapman is also a former player and coach, having played professionally for the Arizona Sahuaros 2000 – 02
Saturday will be his fourth visit to Montreal (1-1-1), and his tenth experience with the Impact (2-4-3).
Two Montreal players have seen red in those games, both in 2015:
- Donadel at Chicago Fire
- Oyongo at San Jose
Mr Chapman has not yet brandished red to an Impact opponent.