A funny thing happened while Seattle Sounders FC exploded onto the MLS scene - they have yet to beat the Montreal Impact. On Saturday they'll face off in a third stadium as Montreal moved their game to the not-quite-safe-in-the-snow Olympic Stadium. The Impact changed coaches after finishing just 1 win worse than Sounders FC. The roster shift is not as strong as in Seattle though.
Montreal enters the game with an 0-2-0 -2 GD. Seattle is at 1-1-0 +0 GD.
Sofiane from Mount Royal Soccer answers Three Questions to preview the match. All answers are in English, but their website is an amazing blend of the dual languages of Quebec.
SaH: Andrew Wenger seems to be just a forward now. How's he filling in for the missing Di Vaio (3-game suspension)?
MtRS: Trust me, after seeing him practices and play under Jesse Marsch, Wenger was never going to be something else than a forward. Let's say that he was never going to be converted to some hybrid central defender. Andrew Wenger is not the Tim Tebow of Major League Soccer.
As per filling in for Marco Di Vaio, if Jermaine Defoe wants to wear Impact blue, I don't see many strikers in the league able to replace Di Vaio just like that. But as per performance and progression, Wenger has progressed this season. He seems sharper, faster and more eager to use his body.
His scoring efficiency is still sub-par but Frank Klopas hopes that his raging header against FC Dallas will inspire him to score more goals. He is making the smart runs, beating defenders and using the body. All he needs is a decent scoring streak and he will become a good MLS striker.
SaH: The Impact are very dependent on crosses where's all the wide play coming from?
MtRS: The Impact likes to diversify its passing choices but has always wanted to have a more diversified overall style of play. Even though Di Vaio is not a big target, low crosses into the box is something the team is always looking to go for.
With streaking midfielders, like Felipe Martins, the club is trying to get more numbers into the box and not necessarily score off a header. Wenger has showed more initiative in establishing a bigger presence in the box so that should keep Djimi Traoré busy.
SaH: How confident are you in Troy Perkins?
MtRS: Troy Perkins is arguably a very underrated MLS goalkeeper, though Hall from Houston could also be put under that category. He has been the 5th defender for the Impact since joining them via trade in 2012.
He is not Nick Rimando but will save his team's bacon more than one time during a game and has a knack to calm things down on set-pieces and crosses.
Significant Absences: except for Di Vaio being suspended, Sanna Nyassi's absence will hurt the team as
he was an option for the left side of the Impact. He might not be consistent but has enough speed and soccer IQ to have a minimum of an impact on the pitch.
Projected Lineup: Perkins - Miller , Camara , Ferrari , Brovsky - Bernadello,Warner - Mapp, Bernier, Felipe - Wenger
MtRS: Even though the Sounders has kept a core of players throughout the years, the number of transfers and trades has been pretty high. Is this a problem for the chemistry of the team as per continuity? We talk about Clint Dempsey all the time. But what about this guy called Obafemi Martins?
SaH: At first I didn't think these were much related, but it re-enforces something unique about this year's team. Neither Clint nor Oba started the season with Seattle last year. In fact of the starters in the first two matches only three players were with the club at the end of 2012. The turnover is massive. But the core leadership is clear and heavy with MLS influences - Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Clint Dempsey. The spine also includes two international veterans Obafemi Martins, Djimi Traore, one of the best defenders in league history and Stefan Frei. All but one of those men participated in full in training camp this year. All but one have experience with Sigi Schmid as their head coach.
With that foundation it is evident that there is a ton of turnover, but also that the turnover was careful and designed around a change of systems to maximize the talents those key players. Everything about the attack is to ensure that Oba gets a season like he started last year and that Clint's time in Seattle is glorious. The loss to Toronto showed that the two of them are starting to get used to each other. Both are capable of 10+ goal seasons.
MtRS: Is this Sigi Schmid's last chance to get the MLS Cup for Seattle? Can he survive the whole season if the team does not perform as well as it should be?
SaH: This is his last year under contract so there could be a touch more pressure on him. Even if there isn't for that reason the expectations in Seattle never go down. The minimum is for the team to make the Playoffs, but the desire is clear - silverware. He could still get a new contract without a trophy, but it is doubtful if a collapse like last year happens. The Sounders FC leadership does not make results based decisions. Hanauer and Roth are process driven people. So if they do not renew Sigi it is because they've decided his processes no longer work, not because of losses.
MtRS: I always found the Sounders' defense to a bit overrated. It's not that it's missing talent but I am not convinced that it's as fool-proof as the team likes to play such an offensive brand of soccer. Am I totally wrong?
SaH: Last year's defense was right at the top of the year (by goals against) up until the eggs were laid against Vancouver and Colorado. The structure is pretty simple. Don't let teams penetrate through the midfield. In 2014 teams are averaging just 2.01 passes per possession against Seattle. You can't go through a space that is manned by Alonso. You must go over it or around it. Going over puts the ball into Chad Marshall. There may be MLS forwards who can come out ahead in those duels. I don't know who they are. Pushing out wide a team faces the incredible speed and underrated tackling of DeAndre Yedlin. The other flank is either manned by last year's Sounders team Defender of the Year (and SaH Defensive Player of Year) Leo Gonzalez or Dylan Remick, who is clearly the weak link. So if you want to attack the Rave Green the best route is through the right.
Significant Absences: As of this writing (Thursday at 9:27 AM Pacific) Dempsey is available. He may wind up suspended. Chad Marshall and Brad Evans are both questionable, but likely to travel.
Projected Lineup (working that all are healthy and able to play): Frei; Gonzalez, Traore, Marshall, Yedlin; Alonso, Evans; Neagle, Dempsey, Pappa; Martins