Giovanni Sardo from Mount Royal Soccer chatted with me ahead of Saturday's matchup. We exchanged some info to get a feel for each team ahead of the Fire trying to continue their recent run of form. Enjoy and remember to join us for the rest of the festivities heading up to the game.
Hot Time In Old Town Asks Mount Royal Soccer
1. The Impact have started the season on a tear, with a whopping 2.17 PPG so far. What has been the key ingredient for early success on the team? (via Ryan Sealock)
I'm going to be very judgemental yet realistic. The Impact have not been as good as their record indicates. It has been a mix of a 'bend but don't break' mentality and a lot of good luck. Despite starting the season 4-0, the Impact didn't dominate in any game. In fact, Montreal spent long stretches of each games defending for their lives trying not to concede goals. In the loss to SKC, the Impact looked like a houseleague team (in reality, the game should have finished 6-0 rather than 2-0). On a more positive note, the defense has been, for the most part, stellar. GK Troy Perkins is having one of his best ever seasons in the MLS. Hassoun Camara and Jeb Brovsky have been great as fullbacks. They are not flashy. They do their job, they contribute and are rarely caught out of position.
Our centreback situation is getting a little difficult. Legendary CB Alessandro Nesta came back from injury (missed a couple of weeks) only to see his regular partner, Matteo Ferrari, go down with his own injury in warmups. When the two are on the field together, the opposing team will live through a hell-like 90 minutes. However, since they are rotating injuries, youngster Karl Ouimette has been called into duty more often than originally planned. While he seems to have a great future ahead of him, the organization needs to improve its CB depth in order to be a true challenger to the MLS Cup.
2. What in the world happened with the Jesse Marsch situation? For those of us not in the know, it seemed like an odd and abrupt ending to his time with the Impact. What went wrong? (via Ryan Sealock)
Jesse Marsch left by mutual consent. Basically, he was fired but it was presented in a politically correct manner to the media and the fans. Sadly, the mask they put on this firing wasn't believable at all.
Owner Joey Saputo and Sporting Director Nick De Santis are known to have a short temper with managers, especially those who don't share in the same philosophy. Marsch knows the North American game. Saputo and De Santis want a European style of play. Well, whatever the boss wants, the boss gets. In discussions about the upcoming season between the trio (along with the rest of the coaching staff), it became clear that the approaches were simply too different and that no one was willing to bend enough to please the other. Therefore, as it is in any professional sport, the coach got the axe.
Coach Marco was hired from Europe to instill his style of play. Early dividends are showing that this was a great move, however, the season is long and the MLS Cup isn't won in March or April. There are still too many questions surrounding the manager, the playing style and the roster to predict how this team will finish. The Montreal Impact are still a very unfinished product and we should still see a few roster changes from now to the end of the season.
3. The Impact missed the playoffs last year, finishing 7th in the conference. What pieces did the team add int he offseason to improve? What sort of finish do you expect for the team? (via Ryan Sealock)
The Montreal Impact are benefitting from full seasons from Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio. That is huge for whatever success this team will have this season. However, since they are older players, they also need to stay healthy. Nesta has already missed two weeks. Personally, I am concerned.
As for other major additions, they are:
* Andres Romero (M) The Argentine midfielder has shown some great flashes of what he can do on the field while still getting acclimated to the MLS style of play. He is an upgrade over Justin Mapp on the left side of the field but he needs to be more consistent to prove that he is the answer.
* Andrea Pisanu (M) The ex-Bologna midfielder's arrival has been overhyped so far. In Italy, he didn't accomplish much. He's been a fringe player with a great crossing ability most of his career. Once touted as one of the next great Italian midfielders (15 years ago), he failed to live up to expectations overseas and the same is starting to show here. He lacks the aggressive drive to survive in the MLS. He has yet to play a full 90 minutes. In order to win over the fans in this city, he needs to start producing and showing that he can dominate. The season is still young. He has time, but the clock is ticking.
* Daniele Paponi (F) Another ex-Bologna player. Paponi has just joined the club after failing to impress in Italy and the Serie A. He is very talented and the Impact front office are hoping that this change of scenery will help him unlock his potential. This can only be taken as bad news for former number 1 pick Andrew Wenger as Coach Marco only uses a one forward system and one would think that the two Italians (Paponi and Di Vaio) will always be selected ahead of him.
The Montreal Impact are a funny club. They have the talent and potential to win it all. In my season previews, I believe I picked our boys in blue to finish 3rd in the East. I still believe that they can finish that high and compete for the MLS Cup but the front office can't rest on this early run of success. They need to have a cut throat behavior with the roster. If someone isn't performing, international player or not, they need to be sent to the bench. The success of this season hinges on:
Alessandro Nesta's health- The midfield's ability to pass the ball to Marco Di Vaio (and not having him offside 1000 times a game)
More consistent play from Justin Mapp, Andrea Pisanu and Andres Romero. It seems like a tall order, but it can be done!
Predicted Lineup: Perkins, Camara, Nesta, Ouimette, Brovsky, Bernier, Pisanu, Felipe, Arnaud, Mapp, Di Vaio
2-1 Impact Goals by Di Vaio and Arnaud
Mount Royal Soccer Asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. The Fire are currently in 7th place in the East. They also have a -6 goal differential. I don't think that anyone expected to see the Fire struggle this much out of the gate. What's wrong in the Windy City? How much of this decline is linked to the losses of Federico Puppo, Dominic Oduro & Alvaro Fernandez? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
You are correct that Fire fans did not predict this start. A rash of injuries and under performance form a variety of players got the team off on the wrong foot. Fortunately, players are getting healthy, and the team seems to be finding some familiarity with each other now. The Men in Red come into the Impact matchup having won 2 out of the last 3.
Right now it looks like the Duka/Oduro trade worked out in favor of the Crew. Hopefully as the season progresses Dilly Duka will step up and not make fans regret the trade. Federico Puppo didn't really ever contribute to the Fire. The team has arranged loans for him until his contract is up so he won't be back in the Windy City. The Fernandez move was a popular one initially and well liked by fans. Problem is, the player didn't really show up during his time in Chicago. He too is out on loan. Barring a very unforeseen circumstance his time in the Windy City is over too.
2. Have the Fire had any breakout players in the early part of the season (someone playing above expectations)? If so, who and what do they bring to the table?
Right now I wouldn't say that any player has really stepped it up and surprised. Sean Johnson has been the best overall in my opinion, but he's a household name now so that's not really a surprising pick. Maybe that is part of our early struggles too- no one has stepped up and made us say their name over and over.
In the past 3 weeks, the defense has risen to the occasion. Jalil Anibaba and Austin berry have really settled down at center back. Partick Nyarko returned from injury last week and provided a much needed spark to get the team a win against the Crew. Jeff Larentowicz is beginning to play better too. All in all, I would say the past few weeks have brought improvements in a few areas but no real breakthrough young players- yet.
3. Who do the Impact have to fear the most on Saturday and why?
I am going to say Nyarko. Normally I would be inclined to say Chris Rolfe or Sherjill MacDonald. MacDonald has not been good at all this year, and Rolfe has not been able to get going. If Nyarko can come in and create chances like he did in the 2nd half last week, the team will be in a good spot. The problem is players putting those chances in the back of the net. The Fire won last week 1-0, but in reality it could have easily been 3 or 4 to zero. Those missed opportunities will come back to haunt the team at some point if we continue to fail at converting our chances.
Predicted formation and starting XI:
Johnson, Thompson, Anibaba, Berry, Segares, Pause, Larentowicz, Lindpere, Rolfe, Nyarko, MacDonald
Final Score: I will say 1-1. Stade Saputo will not be the easiest environment to play in. However, with the team coming into the game on some good form, my confidence is better. I normally would have picked a win but the question mark of who will consistently score the goals is causing me to pick the draw.