Seattle Sounders FC continue their early season road trip with a journey to Quebec. The Montreal Impact and Olympic Stadium are hosting the Sounders at 4 PM on 11 March (JOEtv in Seattle, ROOT Sports outside of Seattle).
Montreal lack Drogba this season, and so may have issues generating offense. Brian Schmetzer is still trying to tune-up an attack that generated just one expected goal at Houston. The Impact only created 0.1 expected goals. This has the makings of a contest determined by defensive errors that give up a goal or two.
Mount Royal Soccer answers Des Trois Questions to prepare you for the match.
SaH: Let's get this out of the way quickly. What is the team going to do without Didier Drogba?
MtRS: Although Drogba came under scrutiny during a large part of his time in Montreal by certain supporters and media there is no doubt he will be missed in 2017.
Matteo Mancosu was recently rewarded by the Impact by being signed for two more seasons after a very solid run in the playoffs last season. The question now will be can he keep up those production levels over the course of an entire (physically draining) MLS season? Didier Drogba provided ten goals over twenty-two appearances last season and replacing those goals will be a tall order. One could put up a solid argument to say that without Drogba the Impact would have missed out on qualifying for MLS playoffs all together in 2016. Montreal is going to have to rely on continued service from Mancosu, another phenomenal season from Piatti, and a more cohesive team attack in order to score goals this season.
SaH: Will playing at Olympic Stadium change the Impact's tactics?
MtRS: As much as supporters dislike watching matches at the Olympic Stadium the Impact have been relatively successful there over the last few seasons. With the stadium turf the ball moves fast which tends to play into the counter attacking approach Montreal has utilized since Biello took over as Head Coach. The turf and playing style tends to benefit some of the quicker players on the Impact including Dominic Oduro and Ambroise Oyongo, who always appear to find extra space on the field in the Olympic Stadium. The stadium is a unique one and I think that training on the surface in the lead-up to matches gives the Impact an advantage over opponents.
SaH: Is this a defense that can win a title?
MtRS: At the moment....no. Although there are a lot of good pieces on the back line, the Impact continuously have issues finding cohesion. Laurent Ciman is the standout player in the center of defence, however finding him a consistent partner has been an issue over the last season and a half. Last weekend Hassoun Camara was utilized however was caught out of position a few times and eventually sent off for seeing yellow twice. Victor Cabrera (if healthy) will likely slot in beside Ciman. Ambroise Oyongo is another very good defender and recently a starter on the African Cup of Nations-winning Cameroon a few weeks ago. If the Impact can continue to improve, and at the same time, pick up one more solid defender they will be in good shape come October (if they can score goals).
Ambroise Oyongo - Laurent Ciman - Victor Cabrera - Chris Duvall
Marco Donadel Hernan Bernardello
Ignacio Piatti Patrice Bernier Dominic Oduro
MtRS: After the slow start to last season, how did the Sounders turn it around during the second half of 2016?
SaH: There's a long list of things that went right from late July to December 10. There was an influx of talent both via signing and healing. Roman Torres recovered from his ACL tear and strengthened an already good defense into a great one. Alvaro Fernandez rejoined Seattle after years away. He added possession with a bit of verve in the attack. They also added the Newcomer of the Year, DP Nicolas Lodeiro. Nico adds to every element of the game. He is one of the better defenders on the squad, despite being an attacking mid. His vision and skill show up in passes that are unreal. He can score too. Lodeiro put up 8 goal, 8 assist numbers in just 19 regular season and playoff games. There's plenty of reason to think he will be on the MVP short list in 2017.
Lastly was the hiring of Brian Schmetzer. Firing the winningest coach in MLS history is a bold move. Schmetzer offered continuity for the rest of the staff and familiarity with the players. He deftly rebuilt a belief in the team and the organization. The tactics were simpler. The demand he placed on the players was simple and frightening - be the best story in the history of the league, or be remembered as the ones that failed the city. They responded with greatness. They became legends.
If any one of those four elements doesn't happen Seattle probably doesn't make the playoffs, let alone win MLS Cup 2016.
MtRS: Who are the new faces in Seattle this season? Who will the Impact defenders need to pay extra close attention to on Saturday?
SaH: Harry Shipp, who needs little introduction, joined early in the offseason, as did Will Bruin. Both look to be rotational players earning some starts with a lot of appearances as substitutes. Gustav Svensson came in an a free from a team in China. At first it seemed he would be a depth piece, but injuries have the former defensive mid starting at right back. The best young draftee or homegrown is Henry Wingo. He goes directly towards goal looking to change games late and could develop into a great spark.
MtRS: After beating Toronto FC last season in the MLS Cup Final, what are the expectations this season in Seattle? How do the Sounders build off the success from last year? What's the 'next step'?
SaH: The expectations are to compete for another MLS Cup, but without the awful first half of the season. We'll have to wait until next year for CONCACAF Champions League, but another deep run in that is on the list of "next steps." So would a domestic treble. Seattle won a double in 2014. There's LA's five Cups, but it takes a second for that to be a true target. Lastly, there are still tens of thousands of empty seats every game. An MLS Cup win should help fill some of those, but to be a true team of the city it will take more than just wins.
Projected Lineup: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Gustav Svensson; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Harry Shipp, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Jordan Morris