New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact: Eastern Conference contenders? Step forward
Two teams making a push in the Eastern Conference.
As MLS teams enter the back stretch of the season – the final 10-12 games – the jockeying for position in the standings becomes more significant.
If either the New York Red Bulls or Montreal Impact want to make a push for the top seed in the East, which would require leapfrogging both Toronto FC and New York City F.C., the momentum needs to begin now. Both teams have been able to put together good runs. The Impact has lost just once in its last 10 games, while the Red Bulls have not suffered a defeat since July 3. Yet, both teams have work to do to make a case in the Eastern Conference.
Montreal has been aided by the introduction of forward Matteo Mancosu, who has scored twice and has one assist in just 142 minutes played so far. Against the Red Bulls, we could see Mancosu partner up top with Didier Drogba, who is coming off of a red card suspension. The duo would force a change from the lone striker formation used by Montreal, but the benefits could be huge.
The Red Bulls will need a big game from Sacha Kljestan, who will have to carry the load in midfield with no Dax McCarty (fractured leg) behind him and potentially no Bradley Wright-Phillips (bone bruise) ahead of him. The Red Bulls could be aided by the introduction of some new signings in the final third, but Kljestan will be the player expected to lead New York to a win at home.
The Red Bulls have been hit by an unfortunate spell of injuries just as it looked like they might make a push for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. McCarty is out for another four to five weeks, Damien Perrinelle is also out around a month with a leg injury and Connor Lade will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Wright-Phillips is also considered day-to-day.
New York will get some reinforcements in two new additions: designated player Omer Damari and winger Daniel Royer, both of whom are expected to insert some more goals into the lineup.
Montreal is relatively healthy, though Lucas Ontivero has a knee injury that he picked up in a friendly against Roma.
Player to watch
Sean Davis, New York Red Bulls – The homegrown product made his first start in place of McCarty last week in a 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy and acquitted himself well, scoring his first career MLS goal in the process. He’ll have yet another tough task against Montreal, namely stopping Ignacio Piatti in the attacking third, a job that will require him to cover plenty of ground.
When healthy, McCarty is such an important piece, not just because of the defensive ground he covers but also for his passing ability. Kljestan works well finding the pockets between lines and is often rewarded by McCarty, which sparks things in the attack for the Red Bulls.
New York will need Davis to do his best job of replicating McCarty’s presence, being assertive on the ball while also staying disciplined defensively against Montreal’s MVP contender.
Jesse Marsch has done a remarkable job reinventing the Red Bulls over the last year and a half using a high-press system that relies on team movement and not any one individual. The result was a Supporters’ Shield last year, and despite an incredibly slow start, a chance at finishing atop the Eastern Conference this season. Marsch’s system is facing its biggest test right now with the absence of several starters, most notably McCarty, who is such a key part of a team that pressures so often in midfield.
Marsch’s influence and effect on the team is similar to that of Mauro Biello, who took over as an interim coach last year and, with the help of Didier Drogba, saw a wave of momentum carry the Impact into the postseason. Montreal has an incredibly talented roster and expects to contend for an MLS Cup under Biello, and the Impact has continued to add attacking pieces to a team that may be one of the most dangerous in MLS when it has the ball.
Facts and figures
- New York has won each of its five all-time MLS home matches against Montreal by a combined score of 17-6.
- The Red Bulls are averaging 2.09 goals per game at home this season in MLS play, tied for the second-highest mark in the league behind only Philadelphia (2.17).
- Matteo Mancosu had eight total shots against the Houston Dynamo last week, tied for the most by an Impact player in the 2016 season.
- Montreal has tied its longest road unbeaten streak in MLS play with four straight draws away from home. The Impact have lost just once in its last seven road games.
The Red Bulls are tough to beat at home, and they’ve been very good against Montreal historically. Despite the injury absences, the Red Bulls will get the result: 2-1, New York.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.