Match Previews

Montreal Impact vs. NY Red Bulls preview: Impact home without their star

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

MLS Regular Season | Olympic Stadium | Saturday March 12 | 4 pm ET

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The lowdown

Both teams come into this weekend’s match following unexpected results from opening weekend. The Impact won an away match in Canada for the first time in MLS defeating the Whitecaps 3–2 in Vancouver thanks to two goals and an assist from Ignacio Piatti. The Red Bulls controlled the play against Toronto FC but failed to finish any of its chances before the visitors stole the points with two late goals.

The Impact are as much about Piatti as they are about Didier Drogba. With Drogba unfit, Piatti led the Impact’s attack creating chances for himself and his teammates. Piatti had his way running at and beating the Whitecaps defense for each of his two goals on Sunday. His direct passing was also on display as he assisted on Dominic Oduro's goal.

The Impact conceded off of set plays at the end of each half — uncharacteristic from one of the best defenses in the Eastern Conference last season. Whether that is an omen for a possible drop-off from last year remains to be seen. But with Laurent Ciman anchoring the defense, keep betting the under when the Impact are home (1.0 goals against average in 2015).

The Red Bulls raised their Supporters Shield banner before their match on Sunday and looked like they could defend the Shield for much of the match. However, both their chances at the Shield and in MLS Cup depend on finishing. Although the Red Bulls only had one of its 11 shots be on target, head coach Jesse Marsch said after the game that the result doesn’t change his confidence about the team’s attack.

Marsch is encouraged with the debut of Gideon Baah at center back. Baah, the only offseason arrival to have played top flight soccer before, showed off an impressive combination of athleticism and skill on the ball. He helped hold Giovinco to only one shot on target from open play — a chip from Giovinco’s own half — and has the speed to keep up with Oduro.

Team news

Drogba is in Sacramento gaining his fitness after a sore knee kept him out of preseason and won’t be playing on turf. Johan Venegas missed the opener with a hamstring injury but could recover in time to start at right wing. Marco Donadel felt soreness in his leg while warming up last week and played 58 minutes against the Whitecaps but has been limited in training this week. Biello told reporters Donadel’s injury is not serious but Calum Mallace could start if Donadel needs more rest.

Gonzalo Veron missed the opener due to a hamstring injury suffered in preseason. Veron took part in individual training and could be available off the bench. The Red Bulls will be without Ronald Zubar who was suspended by the MLS Disciplinary Committee after they determined his challenge on Daniel Lovitz was a serious foul play that endangered Lovitz’s safety.

Player to Watch: Laurent Ciman

Ciman became the second newcomer to win MLS Defender of the Year in the past three years last season. The former Standard Leige man is an excellent passer and strong enough to tame center forwards like Bradley Wright-Phillips who he held to only three shots on target in their two  encounters last season.

Ciman has excellent positioning and uses his tactical awareness to set the backline and to time the moment when he should step out of it to cut an attack before it reaches the final third. His ability to cut the break allows the Impact’s holding midfielders to play farther up the field. However Ciman tied an MLS record with three red cards last season. He’ll have to calm it down this season if the Impact want to make another trip to the postseason

The managers

Mauro Biello has been with the Impact under owner Joey Saputo for nearly all of the last 20 years. Biello played for the Impact when they were an indoor team and a USL team, served as an assistant when they were in the USSF Division 2 league and the NASL but 2016 is his first as permanent head coach.

Biello righted the ship for the Impact in 2015 as an interim after the team looked in danger of squandering a playoff spot in late August under Frank Klopas. Biello said he wanted to improve the team’s consistency when he took over with 11 games remaining and did just that as the Impact finished the 2015 season picking up 23 out of a possible 33 points.

Facts and figures

  • The Impact have won nine of Biello’s first 14 games as head coach.
  • The Red Bulls were shut out in consecutive games once last season.

FourFourTwo prediction

A 1–1 draw.