Scouting report: A breakdown of what to expect from the Montreal Impact
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Montreal is one of the top teams in Major League Soccer this season.
First-year Swiss Manager Marco Schallibaum's talent-rich side is currently sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, with a 6-2-2 record and 20 points.
Here's the catch: Montreal has four games in hand on first place New York, three games in hand on second place KC, and two games in hand on third place Houston.
Pound for pound, the Impact have been among the top three teams in MLS this season. The Impact have a "points per game" average of two, which is tied with FC Dallas for the highest mark in the league. At the end of the day, PPG is the most important statistic out there.
It's been a busy stretch for Montreal, with five games already played in May. The club is competing in the Amway Canadian Championship, which is the main reason why they've only played 10 league games this season. The Impact travel to Vancouver next Wednesday with a chance to win their first CC trophy since 2008.
This will be a telling game for Philadelphia. The Union are just two points behind the Impact in the Eastern Conference standings. Philadelphia's exceptional road record (3-2-1) will be put to the test against a Montreal team that hasn't lost at home in 2013. The Union are only 1-3-0 this year against teams currently in playoff position.
It's not at full strength. Montreal is dealing with injuries to a few key players.
For starters, captain Davy Arnaud is still out with concussion issues. The veteran midfielder went down on May 1 and has not featured since.
Fellow midfielder Felipe should be available. The Brazilian only recently passed kidney stones and looks to be ok after dealing with a painful and spontaneous situation.
Italian attackers Daniele Paponi and Andrea Pisanu were also both limited at practice this week with various injuries.
So who's left?
It really starts up top with Marco Di Vaio, the veteran Italian striker who is having a great sophomore year in Montreal. He leads the Impact with 6 goals and is behind only Jack McInerney in the race for the league scoring title. Union fans should know his skill-set by now. He's a tricky player who likes to tow the offside line, hanging on defenders' back shoulders and looking for early service.
The Impact opened the season with a counterattacking 4-1-4-1 system, but sort of evolved out of that shape. It was partly due to those injuries but also because there were concerns about whether that type of play was sustainable for an entire season. To that point, Andrew Wenger has helped the cause, providing another option up top next to Di Vaio.
Winger Andres Romero has been a nice addition going forward, and former Union man Justin Mapp has played very well in recent weeks.
You've also got good attacking and midfield depth with Sanna Nyassi, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, and rookie Blake Smith.
Nelson Rivas and Alessandro Nesta have been missing for some time, but Montreal's defense has still been among the best in the league this year.
If those guys can't go, look for a center back pairing of Matteo Ferrari and Hassoun Camara. Ferrari has been a backline staple for Montreal, while Camara can play both CB and RB.
Expect to see Dennis Iapichino at left back, with Jeb Brovsky over on the right.
Brovsky has been a special player this year. He's the only player besides goalkeeper Troy Perkins to play all 900 regular season minutes in 2013.
Oh yeah, he broke his nose last week. Brovsky underwent surgery after the Vancouver game on May 15, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him out there on Saturday.
You might also see Collen Warner in the midfield. He's more of a defensive minded guy, though he could get the nod with the injuries in the midfield.
But we'll save the best for last: Patrice Bernier.
Montreal's two-way midfielder is an underrated star in MLS. He'll sit behind the attacking midfielder, picking spots to go forward and spots to stay at home. He's a great pivot in the midfield, comfortable in distribution while directing play at the same time. Montreal is really a different team when he's not on the field.
Possible Starting XI: Perkins (GK), Iapichino, Ferrari, Camara, Brovsky, Romero, Bernier, Felipe, Mapp, Wenger, Di Vaio
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org