Last season, it took a stoppage time rally from Toronto FC in the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals to keep the Montreal Impact out of their first MLS Cup. They reached the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League in the previous season. This is a proud club with a great deal of heritage. Owner Joey Saputo demands the best. After a slow start to the season that sees it winless in its first five games, everyone around the team is starting to feel the pressure.
“There is a sense of urgency in the Montreal camp,” said Impact radio analyst Grant Needham during an interview Thursday. “But, if things go well and the team gets a win against Atlanta on Saturday, things will be settling down. It is the second home game and in MLS, winning at home is paramount. You have to do that and take your chances on the road. It’s not panic yet, but if things don’t go well for Montreal on Saturday, that button will get a little bit closer and looms a little bit bigger.”
If not for two late goals allowed, two of Montreal’s draws would be wins. Stoppage time goals by Seattle’s Will Bruin and Chicago’s Luis Solignac ruined strong results for the Impact this year and put more pressure on the team heading into Saturday afternoon’s match.
Manager Mauro Biello is hopeful that star attacker Ignacio “Nacho” Piatti returns after missing the last two games. A former teammate of Atlanta’s Tito Villalba at Argentine club San Lorenzo, Piatti has been a superstar in MLS since joining Montreal in the summer of 2014. Thirty six goals in 75 total games demonstrates his importance to the success of the Impact. Needham and much of the Montreal media feel that Piatti will be ready to go on Saturday, he has reportedly been training without pain this week.
- Piatti is a player who can win games on his own. If he is on the field, he immediately becomes the focal point of Montreal’s attack and of Atlanta’s defense. His dribbling and touch is world class. Piatti can create goals for others as well as score them for himself.
- His absence in the last two games has allowed for the emergence of 18-year-old Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla. Wanting to just go by Ballou, he has been a handful for opposing defenses. His combination of speed, dribbling skill, and confidence at his age has rumors flying about a future move to a major European club. He nearly scored a 90th-minute winner in Chicago, if not for Solignac’s equalizer just a few minutes later in stoppage time.
- The Impact are a veteran team that will not fold mentally. However, older legs in the midfield have hurt them late in games and could be a weakness exploited by Atlanta’s mix of youth, speed, and pressing style.
- 37-year-old midfielder and captain Patrice Bernier leads Montreal with four assists. He has already announced that this will be his last season and he is determined to go out with a bang. Bernier sits deeper than many playmakers in the league and the Five Stripes will have to close him down quickly when he is in possession.
- Montreal is one of the best counterattacking teams in MLS. This season, they have tried at times to not be so defensive with mixed results. Ballou and Dominic Oduro can run with Atlanta’s speedy wide players and can cause problems over the top. Combined with Piatti’s skill, the Impact will keep Atlanta honest even if they sit back to defend mostly.
- Impact defensive midfielder Marco Donadel will miss the match after receiving a red card in last week’s 2-0 loss to the LA Galaxy.
- Atlanta’s Yamil Asad will be suspended for this game after his second half red card in Toronto. United did not appeal the card. MLS clubs are only allowed two unsuccessful appeals per season and must be selective when they use them.
- United midfielder Jacob Peterson has returned to training this week and is expected to be available in Montreal.
- 16-year-old midfielder Andrew Carleton made the game day roster last week, but he will be away with the U.S. U17 national team for the next few weeks as they participate in the CONCACAF Championships and World Cup qualifying.