Scouting report: A breakdown of what to expect from Saturday's opponent in Montreal
The standings say it all: Montreal Impact is the best team in the Eastern Conference right now.
With 41 points and two games in hand on other top teams, you have to admit that Marco Schallibaum's squad is deserving of its first place record.
It hasn't always been pretty, but the club has reinvented itself through win streaks, slumps, distractions, and nonleague play. At the end of the day, you've got a team that's 12-7-5 overall with the highest points per game percentage in Major League Soccer.
It's a critical test for the Union, which looks to rebound from a 5-1 loss in New England last weekend. Montreal is fresh off a 5-0 thrashing of Houston and has won back to back games against Eastern Conference teams. The Impact beat the Union, 5-3 earlier in the season and currently have a 2-0-1 all-time edge against Philadelphia.
It all revolves around getting the ball to top goal scorer Marco Di Vaio. The 37-year-old has an MLS best 15 tallies this season and scored four goals in the last two games.
Schallibaum, who is suspended for this game, has tried just about every formation in an effort to provide service to Di Vaio. Montreal opened the season in a 4-1-4-1, then tried a more conventional 4-4-2 after hitting the skids in April and May. They've also messed around with a 4-3-3 and shifted to a 4-4-1-1 in the recent win against Houston.
No matter the shape, Montreal's best bet is getting Justin Mapp and Felipe Martins on the field. Mapp, the former Union winger, has been a revelation for the Impact this season with two goals and seven assists from his wide midfield position. Felipe, who plays just behind Di Vaio, has five goals and seven assists of his own.
There's a new face in the middle – midseason signing Hernan Bernardello. The 27-year-old Argentine plays above all-star Patrice Bernier and basically took over the role that Davy Arnaud handled earlier in the season.
The other wide spot likely goes to Andres Romero, who has two goals and two assists this year. There's really a lot of offensive depth on this team, with guys like Sanna Nyassi, Daniele Paponi, Andrea Pisanu, Blake Smith, and Andrew Wenger all contributing throughout the campaign.
Montreal's defense has been all over the place this season, some great games – and some terrible games also.
The Impact backline began the season allowing just two goals in the month of March. Since then, they've been all over the place, conceding four to Colorado, four to New York, three to Toronto, and three to the Union. They disappointed earlier this month in road losses at DC and Chicago, then recovered for back to back wins in the last two weeks.
Whatever the case, the central defensive pairing of Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari certainly does not lack experience. Nesta may have lost a step at age 37, but at times we still see glimpses of the player who won a World Cup and two Champion's League titles during his time with AC Milan. Ferrari has been the more steady of the two, playing in 22 of the team's 24 games.
Right back Hassoun Camara likes to get forward and actually has three goals this season, which is third-best on the team. Left back Jeb Brovsky has quietly had a great season and might be the most blue-collar style player on the Impact roster.
Possible Starting XI: Perkins (GK), Camara, Ferrari, Nesta, Brovsky, Bernier, Bernardello, Mapp, Romero, Felipe, Di Vaio (4-4-1-1)
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com