After returning from Canada triumphant, the Chicago Fire prepare for the back half of the Canadian double header taking on the Montreal Impact at Toyota Park this Saturday night. The Fire won their fifth road game of the season defeating Toronto FC 2-1 Wednesday night by goals from Alvaro Fernandez and Chris Rolfe. Montreal last played September 1st in a critical Eastern Conference game losing to Columbus 2-1. The loss ended Montreal's five-game winning streak including a win at New England and against the league leaders San Jose Earthquakes. Both teams have won five of their last six games and will try to make their current run of form propel them to victory.
This match carries a strong sense of urgency for Montreal as their season is quickly ending. Three points in Bridgeview will be necessary for any realistic chances of postseason play. The Impact are in seventh in the Eastern Conference with 39 points from 29 games. The Fire are in second, only two points behind Kansas City, with 47 points from 27 games. A run for the Supporter's Shield may not be too far out of the question for the Fire if they can manage to hold serve at home and get their sixth win in seven games.
The most obvious matchup in this game is the glacier slow, but vastly experienced ex-Serie A trio of Nelson Rivas, Matteo Ferrari, and the legendary Alessandro Nesta against the speedy and tricky Fire attack of Chris Rolfe, Patrick Nyarko, and eventually Dominic Oduro. Montreal experimented with a back three in previous matches, but doing so against this Fire attack would be suicidal and idiotic as Toronto proved earlier in April when they played a 3-4-3. Jeb Brovsky will likely play at left back and will need a strong game to shut down Nyarko who has been fantastic all season long on the right wing.
Creating chances will likely happen for the Fire, but finishing is another matter. Chicago dominated for large stretches against Toronto Wednesday night creating multiple chances and finishing few of them, which have been the story throughout the season(s). While the Fire continuously breached the Toronto defense, Montreal will likely eliminate a large majority of those chances by staying organized at the back through Nesta's experience and leadership. Finishing must be clinical and getting an early goal will be vital. The worst-case scenario for Chicago would be to concede an early counterattack goal and letting Montreal play cattenaccio throughout the rest of the game.
An odd statistic to look at for this game is the amount of penalties awarded for these two teams. So far, only six penalty calls have occurred in Fire games, three for and three against. On the other hand, Montreal have had a whopping 17 total penalty calls with eight calls for and nine against. The action seems to make its way to the spot in games involving the Impact so clean tackling will be imperative as well as keeping arms and hands close to the body when inside the penalty area.
Lock Down the Midfield
It's no secret that Marco Di Vaio can be a dangerous player, but the four goals and two assists from 12 games may not exactly be the type of productivity Impact fans were hoping for regarding the Italian striker. That would be a concern for most teams, but the real threat from Montreal lies in the midfield with Felipe, Davy Arnaud, and Patrice Bernier linking up very well throughout their final stretch. The productivity from Bernier may be a little exaggerated as six of his nine goals have been from the penalty spot, but he still carries eight assists on the season. Felipe can be more problematic as he holds 10 assists and four goals and drives the Impact attack. Focusing too much on the center of the park will open up space for Arnaud in a wide midfield position to threaten also. Shutting down Montreal's attack will be a very challenging task as it shape shifts to exploit the thin areas of the opponent's defense. For a Fire defense that has allowed easy goals from lapses in concentration easily, this is a major cause of concern.
One more statistical trend from Montreal is that they concede more goals as the game wears on. The Impact have allowed 25 of the opponent's 46 goals after the 60th minute leaving hope for teams that fall behind. The only two goals given up in the last half hour during their recent hot streak have been the two goals from Columbus in their only loss.
The Fire have scored only 13 goals in the final 30 minutes of the game, but the tendency to earn points after conceding first is something that can not be ignored. Hopefully an early goal will relieve the pressure of having to rely on Rolfe burning Nesta again like he did back in 2005.
A Fire win is very possible, but it will take a total 90-minute performance from the defense, a disciplined midfield, and clinical finishing from the forwards to get all three points and a step closer to first in the East.