It’s another “six-pointer” for John Hackworth’s team.
The Union travel to Montreal for the first time ever this Saturday, four points behind the Impact with a whopping five games in hand.
It’s a prime opportunity to close the gap on Jesse Marsch’s expansion club, which is continuing to find its feet.
The two sides met at PPL Park just three weeks ago. Philadelphia got the best of Montreal in a closely-contested 2-1 victory that featured late drama, a Union own-goal, and a Carlos Valdes game-winner.
Since then, Montreal have gone 2-1-0 in league play. Marsch’s club enjoyed home wins against New England and New York, but lost to Houston on the road. The Impact are now sitting on 27 points with a 8-13-3 record.
Montreal got a boost against New York when designated player Marco Di Vaio bagged his first goal in Major League Soccer.
However, the Impact will not have his services on Saturday.
Di Vaio returned to Italy on Wednesday to attend to issues regarding the match-fixing scandal plaguing his home country. The 36-year-old is facing allegations that he did not report fraudulent activity to authorities in the Italian football association. A guilty decree could leave Di Vaio with a lengthy 3 to 6 month ban, but Montreal’s forward insists that he did nothing wrong during his time with Bologna in Serie A.
That opens the door for Andrew Wenger on Saturday night. The rookie striker is returning from a hamstring injury and did not play at PPL Park. He could certainly start with Di Vaio unavailable.
For the most part, Marsch has stayed with the 4-2-3-1 formation that was implemented this summer as a response to numerous squad injuries. Look for any combination of Felipe Martins, Justin Mapp, Davy Arnaud and Sanna Nyassi behind the main striker.
Patrice Bernier might be Montreal’s most important player on the field. He’ll slot in next to Collen Warner just in front of the Impact defense.
Montreal gets a huge boost on the backline, with three solid center backs just recently becoming available.
World cup winner Alessandro Nesta made his MLS debut last week and played a key role in shutting down New York’s potent attack. Nesta is 36 years old but doesn’t seem to have lost a step at all. He’s a world class defender who played Champion’s League football just last season.
Also in central defense, Nelson Rivas and Matteo Ferrari are returning from injury. Rivas paired Nesta against New York, while Ferrari provided fresh legs in the second half. The issue now for Marsch is how to utilize all three of these players.
For starters, Marsch used natural center half Hassoun Camara as a right fullback against New York. Lancaster native Zarek Valentin, who played at PPL Park, is out with an ankle injury. That leaves Jeb Brovsky and Dennis Iapichino as candidates for the other fullback spot.
Keys to the Game
The first matchup between Philadelphia and Montreal wasn’t one for the soccer purist, but the Union got the job done.
It was an effective performance from a team that’s learning how to force results at home.
But it will be a lot different this time around.
Montreal is a completely different team at home. Marsch’s club is 1-10-1 on the road, but 7-3-2 at home. The Impact are also 5-2-0 at Stade Saputo since the stadium’s June opening.
And you can’t devalue the additions of Nesta, Ferrari and Rivas to the Impact defense. While Camara and Shavar Thomas had a pretty good game at PPL Park, the aforementioned trio has more experience, each at higher levels. It’s a difficult task for Jack McInerney and company.
Philadelphia should be boosted by the positive results at Los Angeles, at Chivas and at Dallas this season. Historically, the Union have been stronger at home than they have been on the road. But there’s a lot at stake in this match, with an opportunity for Philadelphia to close the gap on the their hosts to just one point with a win on Saturday night.