Chicago Fire have a chance to make history on Saturday afternoon by besting the club's longest streak without conceding a goal (currently at 356 minutes; team record is 395 minutes in the 2009 season). Montreal Impact have other plans and hope to stay atop the Eastern Conference with a road victory.
This spring fixture marks the Chicago return for former homegrown player Harry Shipp. It will surely be an emotional experience for both Shipp and the CF97 supporters after the new Fire regime made the trade during the 2016 preseason. Shipp admitted that he will have a large group of family and friends in attendance, all decked out in new Montreal gear.
The Men in Red will hope to earn three points going into a stretch where the team will be on a bye for two of the next three weeks. Keeping the momentum rolling into this downtime will provide optimism for the rest of the season and firmly plant the team in a playoff position. We sought answers to some questions going into the upcoming game from John Richan of Mount Royal Soccer. These cover the team's attacking threats, Shipp's return, and the team's transition from the Klopas era.
1) Ignacio Piatti has been key to Montreal Impact's early season successes. Can Chicago Fire shut down the attack by sending out a destroyer to disrupt his creative play or does that simplify Montreal's attacking strategy too much?
Richen: Piatti started off the season with two great performances. Since that time he has slowed down a bit, but still a threat when he is on the field. Piatti is at his best when the whole midfield is clicking; whether that be Shipp, Ontivero, Alexander, or Venegas. From an Impact point of view it will be interesting to see if Drogba starts on Saturday, and how his presence can influence Piatti and the other midfielders. Even when Piatti is not at his best the Impact have other weapons that can take pounce.
2) Do you expect Harry Shipp's game to be affected by a return to Toyota Park to play against the club for which he used to play and support as a child? If so, do you expect it to be extra motivation or a distraction?
Richen: Harry Shipp has been great since joining Montreal. Like Piatti, his form has been a little up and down over the last few weeks but he is an awesome player to have in the Montreal midfield. It is hard to say how Shipp will react in his return to Toyota Park, but I would think it would be extra motivation. When Shipp is at his best, it has taken the Impact to another level during the first month and a half of the season.
3) Frank Klopas had more success as a head coach in Montreal than he did in Chicago, but Mauro Biello has done even more with the team since Klopas' 2015 midseason departure. What changes have you seen in the team under Biello that have contributed to the team's success?
Richen: Where to start... I think at the very heart of this question is Biello's ability to relate and communicate with the players. The attitude of the team changed overnight after Klopas was let go by the Impact. Yes, Drogba's arrival provided a big boost last season but there was more to it than that. I think a lot of veteran players were not happy under Klopas in Montreal and there was a trickle down effect. Another interesting point I have noticed this season is the team discipline under Biello. Under Klopas the Impact had an atrocious discipline record, racking up cards (yellow and red) every game. Biello has brought simple, responsible, and discipline soccer to the Impact.
Potential Lineup for Montreal: Bush, Toia, Ciman, Cabrera, Alexander, Donadel, Piatti, Shipp, Venegas, Drogba
Score Prediction: 1-1