Match preview: Union out to keep DiVaio spark extinguished at PPL Park Saturday (4 p.m.)
Montreal Impact at Philadelphia Union
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.; Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
TV: 6abc featuring play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas
Social: Follow all the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchDay
If one man can fix the problems of an entire team, it's Marco Di Vaio.
Montreal's talismanic striker returns from suspension just in time for his season debut against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday at PPL Park.
It's been a rough start for the Impact, who have lost three straight games without the services of last year's leading scorer. Di Vaio's suspension carried over from a physical confrontation in the 2013 post-season matchup against the Houston Dynamo.
The 37-year-old Italian veteran scored 20 goals last year.
“It's a dangerous kind of game for us,” said manager John Hackworth at his midweek press conference. “In particular, it's the fact that they have Di Vaio coming back. This will be his first game available. Andres Romero is coming back as well. That's two very good players that will make their team much different than what we've seen in the first three weeks of the season. You also have a team that's probably feeling like they deserve more and is going to have to go out and prove it. You get a very motivated Montreal team coming into Philly this week.”
None of Di Vaio's goals came from the penalty spot last season.
He scored four against the Union, including a hat trick in the five to three win at Stade Saputo in May. He also found the equalizer in the critical October matchup that influenced the playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference.
This season, the Impact opened up with a 3-2 loss in Dallas and a 1-0 loss in Houston. They played their home opener in Montreal's Olympic Stadium last weekend, falling 2-0 to Seattle.
The squad, which has not had much turnover under new manager Frank Klopas, has been competitive in three games against very good opponents.
“They have, basically, a similar roster to what they had last year,” Hackworth said. “I think they're going to be a team that, over the long haul, is competitive in the standings. Right now, obviously they haven't had those results go their way. Di Vaio certainly I think is, (probably) the best striker in our league at peeling off the back shoulder of a center back and having his teammates recognize exactly how he wants the ball. He's just a deadly finisher. Having that goal scorer obviously is important. You've got other guys; I think Justin Mapp is playing the best soccer of his whole career right now. Every time he gets the ball, he's getting it in a spot where he can go one versus one and he's good going either to his right or left. That presents some problems.”
Without Di Vaio in the lineup, we've seen Montreal run a 4-2-3-1 formation with Andrew Wenger playing the single striker role.
It's a formation Montreal relied on last season.
Former manager Marco Schallibaum generally deployed Di Vaio as a lone forward, trying formations like the 4-1-4-1 to go with the aforementioned 4-2-3-1 over the course of the season. He did try a 4-4-2, pairing Di Vaio and Wenger together, but Montreal's early-season success was the product of stout defense and Di Vaio playing by himself up top.
It's hard to say what Klopas will do with both strikers available for the first time.
“It's a really interesting question,” Hackworth observed. “I know our staff has been talking a lot about their options with Di Vaio coming back. You mention Wenger; he's playing well and he's dangerous. When they now have their full complement of players back, knowing that they've played a certain system and haven't had success, it means that it's going to be interesting to see how they line up on Saturday. We're going to prepare for both. You've got to be ready for a team like Montreal that has a lot of quality. Their job is similar to ours in, 'how are they putting those pieces on the field?'.
What do you think the Union will roll out against Montreal? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org