Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact - MLS #28 - Fireside Chat with Mount Royal Soccer

Chris Rolfe has been in great form lately. Can he net again against the Impact Saturday? (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

It seems like just yesterday that I was publishing the Toronto Fireside Chat. Well, it wasn't yesterday but it was on Tuesday. The beauty of a 2 game week is that there is never a shortage of action and stuff to write about. I normally post my Fireside Chats up the day before the game, but I decided to drop this one today. We should still have a full match preview up from Nick Fedora as well as our customary gamethread heading up to the game Saturday.

Giovanni Sardo over at Mount Royal Soccer took some time to visit with me ahead of Saturday's clash at Toyota Park. Coming off the Fire's 2-1 win last night in Toronto, the Men in Red currently sit in 2nd place in the East. We will be tested by a tough Montreal side, followed by games with Columbus and Sporting KC. Things are certainly not going to get any easier. If the Fire can find a way to navigate through these tough games and get some points, our argument for the top spot in the East will be out in full force.

For now, enjoy the Fireside Chat. First question is below, the rest will be after the break...

Hot Time In Old Town Asks Mount Royal Soccer

1. Montreal likes to switch between a back 3 and a back 4. Which is the more suited formation? (via Stephen Piggott)

It all depends on who is healthy and available. Jesse Marsch will only deploy a back 3 when Alessandro Nesta, Nelson Rivas and Matteo Ferrari are healthy. In fact, this is the formation that you should be seeing this weekend against your Fire. With the European experience, pedigree and superior talent of those 3, the Impact can afford to have an extra player in the midfield to support the offense.

When one of Nesta, Rivas or Ferrari are not available, the Impact automatically shift to a back 4 that usually features Jeb Brovsky and Zarek Valentin as the fullbacks.

2. Di Vaio had a bit of trouble scoring at the beginning of the season. Has he turned the corner since? (via Rudy Gomez)

Marco Di Vaio, just like many other European players who have come across the pond, struggled to adapt to the MLS. A few factors led to his struggles:

* Gambling scandal

Despite the chances of him being found guilty were slim, this still caused a great amount of stress on Marco. It isn't easy having to deal with a scandal in your home country, from which you are innocent, after leaving your former team as a captain and legend while trying to open the final chapter of his career in the MLS. Marco needed to be acquitted not once, but twice as Prosecutor Palazzi's witch hunt knew no boundaries. When he received the confirmation of his second acquittal, he immediately seemed 25 kilos lighter on the field and had the 'Eye of the Tiger'.

* Difference in playing style, speed

With all due respect to any midfielder and forward on the Montreal Impact roster, Marco played last season with the likes of Italian international Alessandro Diamanti, Gaby Mudingayi and Gaston Ramirez. When he came to Montreal, he was used to a certain syle of play, a certain pace. He wasn't getting it. It always ended up being the same story. A pass that came 2 seconds too late. A pass that came 2 seconds too fast. Wrong distribution. Poor communication. Shortly, frustration set in. Marco was visibly upset on the field. Perhaps the toll of a new country, new team, dealing with a scandal and whatever else went around in his mind got the best of him. Well, guess what? He's human.

Once the betting scandal was behind him, everything just seemed to click. After picking up 1 goal in his first 9 games, Marco has scored in 3 consecutive games. He looks more and more dangerous with each game. Now, after two weeks off, he is rested and his mind is completely clear. I believe that he will be one of the most lethal strikers in the MLS from now until the end of the season.

3. What are the expectations for next season for this team if they don't make the playoffs this season? (via Rudy Gomez)

The MLS Cup.

Period.

Before I come across as being an arrogant fanboy, let me explain. Our owner, Joey Saputo and our Sporting Director, Nick De Santis, have a thirst for wins and championships that is completely unrivaled by anyone in the MLS. Bernardo Corradi was brought in and played well (until he went down with a season ending injury). Matteo Ferrari, arguably one of the best CBs in the MLS, is not a DP. They found midfield wizard Felipe in the Swiss second division and he is only getting better. Italian legend Alessandro Nesta signed on without a DP deal. Our only DP, Marco Di Vaio, is a work horse.

Once the season is over, playoffs or not, De Santis, Saputo and manager Jesse Marsch will evaluate their needs and use their impeccable reputation in Europe to bring in more talent to ensure that we bring the MLS Cup north of the border next year.

4. Montreal has been conceding fewer goals as of late. How much of this is due to the Perkins trade and how much of the credit should be given to the defense? How has Alessandro Nesta been fitting in with the Impact? (via Mark O'Rourke)

Troy Perkins has been an incredible addition to the Impact roster. Troy is the definition of a safe, calm and composed leader. He makes sure that everyone is in place, he makes the tough save and he inspires confidence. With Troy, the defense just has to play their game. They don't have to worry whether or not their keeper will juggle the ball and create another opportunity for the opponent. Donovan Ricketts, unfortunately, didn't offer that. He was often shaky with the ball, had poor set piece defense set up, didn't command his back line and was often caught in no man's land as he had a hard time deciding whether to protect the line or charge the ball. Fans out in Portland have already seen the best and worst of him. It was very clear that he didn't have the confidence of Italian legend and new addition Alessandro Nesta. As of his first game, Nesta began controlling the set piece defensive set up and refused to play the ball back to Ricketts, even if he had a forward all over him. A little birdie told me that Nesta did have a conversation with management that helped speed up trade negotiations.

Speaking of Alessandro Nesta, as you can tell with the Ricketts situation, he has come to Montreal and he's fit in as if he'd been here all season. He has settled down the defense. He shadows the opponent's best offensive threat and really controls every aspect of that defensive line. His presence instantly makes everyone on the field better. Keeper Troy Perkins is more confident just by seeing the name on the jersey playing in front of him. The defense is no longer out of position and plays as a tighter unit. The midfield/forward defensive support is more balanced thru Nesta's instructions. He's helped revolutionize the Impact D. The organization and the fans are blessed to have him.

5. What sort of game plan do you see Montreal using against the Fire? What attribute of the Fire are the Impact most concerned about? (via Ryan Sealock)

The Impact should be using, what I like to call, a shadow 3-5-2. Basically, Jeb Brovsky or Zarek Valentin will line up on the defensive line but will push up more as a wing back to support the offense. Cardio needs to be top notch as this person will need to be the first one back to support the defense. Here is my predicted starting XI:

Troy Perkins

Alessandro Nesta - Nelson Rivas - Matteo Ferrari

Patrice Bernier - Collen Warner

Brovsky/Valentin - Felipe - Lamar Neagle

Davy Arnaud - Marco Di Vaio

With all due respect to the Chicago Fire, the Impact need to be most concerned with their own game. On the road, the Impact have been awful and their record reflects it. In order to succeed, they need to get their own game right. If they play their game the way they can, they should be able to beat the Fire.

6. The Impact are pretty tough at home. Yet they struggle mightily on the road. Winning on the road in MLS is always tough, but why such a big discrepancy between home and away form? (via Ryan Sealock)

Saputo Stadium is our fortress. With 20,000 screaming fans behind the team, we are able to really set the tone and control the flow of play. Best way to explain it is: if at home, the FIFA 13 attributes for each player automatically goes up by 10-15 points.

On the road, it's like we hit a brick wall. The communication suffers, there is no swagger and it is like they play not to lose. That is a recipe for disaster. Although there has been some improvement lately, the Impact need to get a lot more aggressive and fire a lot more balls towards the opposing keeper. The biggest issue seems to be passing and communication through the midfield.

With two weeks off, some rest and plenty of high tempo practices, Jesse Marsch hopes to have found the right formula to shake those road blues.

Bonus: Score Prediction and who gets the goals

I have to think that the Impact will come into this firing on all cylinders and take the 3 points to keep their playoff hopes alive.

2-1 Montreal Impact win. Brace by Di Vaio

Mount Royal Soccer Asks Hot Time In Old Town

1. Schedule- Starting with this past Wednesday's game against TFC, the Fire have 6 games in a little less than a month. Do the Fire have the depth to withstand an injury or two or a suspension? What is/should be the manager's game plan to keep everyone as fresh as possible? Do you think that this will hurt the Fire's playoff chances?

Our depth will certainly be tested, but I think we will be ok. Other than the long term injury to Cory Gibbs, our health overall is in good shape right now. Any long stretch of games like we have coming up can change that though. Fortunately we have reinforcements coming in. Logan Pause is recovering from his broken ribs in a superhuman manner. Steve Kinney, who had been out since 2010 with an Achilles injury, is nearly match fit again, providing additional depth at RB. We just made a trade for midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado earlier this week. And, rumors are circulating that the Fire have one more move up their sleeve before rosters freeze on September 15th. As long as no major injuries happen our depth is in a good spot right now.

As for rotation, Frank has been trying to get rest to a few players. Dominic Oduro has transitioned to a sub role recently with the arrival of Sherjill MacDonald. He badly needed the rest as he was out there pretty much all game every game earlier this year. His fresh legs off the bench are great late in games when his speed is even more deadly with the tired legs of the defenders. A couple of other players who have seen rest are Patrick Nyarko and Dan Gargan. Nyarko is one of our most important players, but he has gotten beat up and knocked around the pitch all season. Frank has had him start a few games on the bench recently to get him some rest, which will be very helpful down the stretch. Patrick is one player that Frank must rotate and keep rested properly. His health is of paramount importance for a strong Fire playoff run. Gargan has seen the bench a lot this past month and a half in favor of Sophomore Jalil Anibaba. While I prefer Gargan over Anibaba at RB, this rest could be great for a good (but aging) defender. Dan having fresh legs as the season winds down can only be a good thing in my mind.

As for playoff chances, I don't think this stretch will hurt us. We definitely will be tested, but these last few big matchups heading into the playoffs should prime the team for the big games ahead. I suppose I would rather have a team that comes into the playoffs having played regularly rather than a team that may have had a longer layoff before the playoffs begin.

2. No playoff position in the East is safe. The top 7 teams still have a shot at making the postseason. Which 5 teams do you see making the playoffs? Please explain why you think Montreal will or won't make it.

For the 5 teams that will make it, I will say it's Sporting KC, New York, Houston, Chicago, and Columbus. Pretty much the top 5 teams right now (Ed. Note- top 5 as of this exchange). DC seems like they might be taking a nosedive at the wrong time. As for the Impact, in terms of recent play, normally I would say that yes, they would make the playoffs. However, the main thing holding Montreal back from picking them as a playoff team is how many games you guys have left. Of all the teams above Montreal, the Fire have a massive 3 games in hand (2 in hand now after last night's win). All other teams have 2 games in hand except Houston, which only has one. This is the big stumbling block for me. Even if the Impact do continue to win, results would have to be very friendly for you to get in the playoffs. The Impact would have to go on a strong run (and find a way to get some wins on the road) to have an outside chance in my opinion. Personally I do enjoy seeing the Impact do well in this inaugural season. Even if the team falls short of the playoffs, I definitely think you have a strong core to build on heading into next season.

3. Transactions

A. Marco Pappa was supposed to stay with the club until the end of the season but he ended up leaving early. What were the reasons behind him leaving early? Is he missed?

Although he had his detractors, most Fire fans miss him. Although he could be maddening at times, he could also pull out some magnificent plays that no one else on our roster is capable of making. We brought in Alvaro Fernandez to help fill the gap left by Marco. In terms of the transfer, it was amicable on both sides. Marco made his intentions known, but did it in a professional manner. The club understood where his heart and dreams were, and accommodated him by letting him go early. There weren't any hard feelings, and if a player has to leave a club, this is the best way it can happen. Although we lose his MLS rights should he ever return to the league by selling him, we also get a good chunk of money back. Rumors say that Heerenveen doubled their offer and it was too much for the Fire to say no to. Although I can't confirm the number (you know how secretive MLS is about this stuff), I have heard the fee was around 1.5 million, which is pretty good business for us.

In the end, Marco has a chance to settle with his new team earlier rather than later. We get a chance to see what the team is like without Marco this year, so if we need to address any needs his depature created, we have the chance to do so in the January window. I think this is beneficial because we can make moves earlier if necessary, rather than having to wait until next summer. Heerenveen gets a good young player on the rise, and they gave us a good transfer fee for him. As I said, it was about as smoothly as a transfer could go.

B. The Fire just acquired midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado. What role is he expected to play within the team?

I think this will mostly be for depth down the stretch. I personally don't know a lot about him, but from what I gathered from fellow fans and writers, he is seen as a defensive/holding type of midfielder. While we have good depth at that spot right now, Logan Pause going down a few weeks ago really showed me how valuable it is to have a backup for a spot like that. I have also heard a few others say he could be used on the left wing, as a backup for Patrick Nyarko in case he gets hurt or needs a rest. From what I have gathered, Thompson is a tough, tenacious player and that is the sort of play Fire fans like to see from any player pulling on that red (or blue) Quaker jersey. I think it's a solid depth signing considering the terms to try to prime us for a deep playoff run.

FEAR YOUR OPPONENT! Which Montreal Impact player do you think the Fire have to watch out for and why?

I can't speak for everyone on the site, but I will go with Marco Di Vaio. In 12 appearances (11 starts), he has 4 goals and 2 assists. Although our backline has been very good and Sean Johnson has been great, Di Vaio is a dangerous player that we will have to keep an eye on. It's safe to say that Di Vaio is a playmaker that we will be wary of.

For our Serie A lovers... One of your keepers is for Inter Milan youth product Paolo Tornaghi. What kind of contribution has he made to the Fire this season? Does he have a future with the Fire? Another team in the MLS?

Paolo started the year in goal for the Fire (including against the Impact to kick the season off). He did very well and looked promising. His movement is good, as well as his athleticism. He needs to develop better communication with the backline, but that's to be expected of any GK that has only had 3 appearances with a new team. He is a product of the famed Inter Milan youth system, so this is a good get for the Fire. I thought he might have featured last night vs. Toronto FC, but Sean Johnson came back to the team early and ended up playing. I definitely think he has a future with the Fire. We have used an International Spot on him so I think that speaks to the Fire's future plans. Plus, if Sean Johnson continues to play the way he has, he could go to Europe sooner rather than later. We all hope Sean stays with the Fire a long time but it's more likely he will depart to take the next step if his play continues. This opens the door for Tornaghi.

Predicted formation, starting XI and final score

I will say we go with a 4-2-3-1 formation. The lineup should be pretty similar to what our normal choice first XI is.

Johnson, Anibaba, Friedrich, Berry, Segares, Pardo, Pause, Nyarko, Rolfe, Fernandez, MacDonald

I will go with a 2-1 Fire win. The game is in our house, and we are VERY tough at home, especially against teams from the East. The Impact struggle on the road, and although I think the Fire will get a tough test, in the end we will come out with all 3 points. I will go with a Di Vaio goal for Montreal. I will tab Rolfe and Pardo with the goals.

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