Montreal Impact visits the 50,805 capacity TCF Bank Stadium for the first time on Saturday evening, the 29th different venue for the Montrealers since entering MLS.
Lying in wait will be, Minnesota United, a team equal in struggle, but with a few more points on the board.
Both sides are winless in their last three. The contest is a hard one to call. Neither has been robust in protecting its goal this season, nor is either side adept at dominating possession, although Minnesota has shown it can, but with poor results. So, it looks like a clash of two counter-attacking styles, involving teams focusing hard on improving defensive frailties.
A run of 4 straight defeats early in the season saw Adrian Heath change his Minnesota strategy. They’ve shifted from a more expansive approach, one that was not paying dividends, to a more cautious model, centred on counter-attack, and there’s been an improvement in results.
Given that he’s about to oppose a Montreal Impact side, possibly the league’s weakest, the former Everton front man may be tempted to tweak the balance towards a more attacking line-up.
United though are concerned about Montreal’s main threat, and should be, as a Piatti goal has become overdue. Said USA international midfielder Miguel Ibarra …
“We know he is a good player. He can make anything happen. We have to stay close to him, not let him turn and make sure we are pressuring him. That is going to be big.”
Ibarra himself is coming into some good creative form on the right of United’s midfield. With a match-winning goal and three match-winning assists — in addition to the setup for midfielder Darwin Quintero’s match-tying strike last week — Ibarra has been at the center of the Loons’ biggest moments this season.
“I think my confidence right now is really high. I think I am getting back to what I used to be before I left for Mexico. That confidence is really big for me. Coming into preseason I felt the best I have in a really long time.”
Opponents focusing on shutting down Piatti should be good news for the Impact, as explained by Daniel Lovitz, available again after serving a one-match suspension ….
“Any team that sees us wants to make sure they limit Nacho’s touches and that’s great.”
“I see guys moving to cover him and I think it opens up some really interesting things for players like myself and other guys to drift into that space they vacate.”
“While he’s struggling to get off opportunities because teams are putting more players on him, the onus is on the other guys around him to be more dynamic.”
Logical words from the Impact left-back, but unfortunately the strategy is not really working out. None of Piatti’s team-mates are about to win anything for Best Supporting Actor on the evidence of this season’s events.
Montreal will face in Darwin Quintero, a striker who has been a nemesis in continental battles. Back in 2009 as a 21 year-old, it was he who emerged from the bench to score twice in added time in Torreon, allowing Santos Laguna to claim an unlikely victory, ending Impact’s fairy-tale Champions League run at the quarter-final stage.
Then in 2015, he played in both legs of the Final with Clube America, as Montreal went down 3-5 on aggregate.
They’ll be hoping, finally to get one over on the former Colombian international, with three goals to his credit this season.
Another familiar face Impact will face is former full-back, Eric Miller, who’s recently regained his place at his home-town club.
The Impact may hold out hope for an early goal Saturday evening. Minnesota has conceded a league high 11 goals in the opening 30 mins of games this season. No other MLS team has conceded more in the first-half of games this season, never mind in the first 30 mins!
They will also hope to break 292 mins of scoreless football, since Nacho Piatti’s 68th min goal against New England, and to avoid a scoreless streak of 4 matches, which would be an Impact record, albeit an unwanted one.
Remi Garde’s dilemma has become one of, either going out to try win every remaining game, which is what it would take to secure a very unlikely play-off spot, or more patiently building a side that can mount a serious challenge for the Canadian Championship, pointing to Champions’ League football next season, and a side ready to hit the ground running in March.
The goals against column for both clubs suggest a goal-fest on Saturday, but confidence is not so high in ether camp. Each team will consider this a winnable fixture and so a more cautious confrontation may ensue.
Minnesota United Projected Starting XI
(4-2-3-1, right to left) GK: Bobby Shuttleworth — Eric Miller, Michael Boxall, Francisco Calvo, Jerome Thiesson — Rasmus Schuller, Collin Martin — Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero, Alexi Gomez — Christian Ramirez
Montreal Impact Projected Starting XI
(4-3-3, right to left) GK: Evan Bush — Michael Petrasso, Jukka Raitala, Marco Donadel, Daniel Lovitz — Alejandro Silva, Samuel Piette, Saphir Taider, Raheem Edwards - Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Ignacio Piatti
Prediction: Minnesota United 2-1 Montreal Impact