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Scouting Report: Absorbing the Montreal Impact

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After a rough start to the season, our gold star crosses the border in search of it’s first points of the year

MLS: Montreal Impact at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Sounders are heading on the road for the second straight week and are looking to bounce back from the season opening 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo. This week, the Sounders are headed north of the border as they take on the Montreal Impact.

Who You’ll Watch

The Impact are coming off a surprising 2016 MLS season that saw them make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final, eventually falling to Toronto FC. They return the same coach and starting XI, but Mauro Biello has decided to jump on the ”high pressure” “possession soccer” bandwagon, using what looks to be a hybrid 4-5-1/4-3-3 structured system (essentially, he’s asking the two outside FWDs to play further back than a standard 4-3-3, leaving Matteo Mancosu more isolated at the point). Abandoning the bunker-counter strategy that worked so well for them in last year’s playoffs in favor of an energy-sapping press with an even older roster - only two starters, the outside backs, clock in under 30 years old - is probably a questionable move, and one that is even less likely to pay dividends as the season wears on.

Montréal fell 1-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes this past weekend and will be looking to pick up their first points of the season on Saturday. It is important to note that starting CB Hassoun Camara will not be available for this game as he will be serving his mandatory one game suspension for the red card he picked up against the Earthquakes.

Impact 2016 Record: 11-11-12, fifth in the East (regular season)

Returning top scorer from 2016: Ignacio Piatti, 17

Returning assist leaders from 2016: Dominic Oduro and Piatti, 6

Notable Impact Roster Changes:

Out: Didier Drogba, Harry Shipp, Johan Venegas, Kyle Bekker, Donny Toia

In: Chris Duvall, Daniel Lovitz, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, Nick DePuy

What to Watch

Can the Montréal actually execute their new system? San Jose consistently denying Piatti the ball was the main storyline that came out of their match last week, but the more important story was the abject failure of the Impact’s midfield to successfully transition the ball into the attacking half. Patrice Bernier and Marco Donadel, the core of the midfield, were invisible both offensively and defensively, and San Jose used overlaps to great effect to keep the Impact’s wings pinned in their own end. They also posted just a 69% pass completion ratio - untenable for a “possession-based” team - and the overall map reads like a late-career Pete Vagenas special.

It’s quite possible that, particularly with one of the starting CBs out, Biello goes back to last year’s system to try to get a result; it’s obviously very early in the season, so who knows if he’s ready and willing to make that type of adjustment yet. Either way, with Piatti lined up on the left, Seattle’s RB situation will again be a major issue, however the rest of the Impact will have to prove they can move the ball forward enough to create offensive threats that keep more than just a couple CBs and a DM or two back.

Will the Sounders play a full game? The Sounders essentially played one half of soccer against the Dynamo last week, and even that might be a bit generous. The performance was marred by poor passing and atrocious spacing, with some questionable effort peppered in for good effect. They’ll need to avoid again looking like they’re at a business mixer and just want to go home in the first half, and, as good as the second half was, even then there were still spacing issues that a better team will take advantage of.

Thankfully, there are reasons to be optimistic. Montréal almost certainly isn’t that better team right now. The Sounders have the defensive strength and offensive firepower to keep a slower roster more honest in its positioning, and to chase them down when they do try to break. Joevin Jones seems poised to really put his stamp on this season and should do well keeping Oduro both covered and defensively honest, and Clint Dempsey looks to be picking right back up where he left off. It’s also unlikely that Nicolas Lodeiro, Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan, and Jordan Morris will all have poor showings at the same time a second week in a row. If the Sounders can put together two halves even close to similar to last week’s second, warts and all, Montreal will be in for a long evening.

Expected Lineups

Montréal: Bush; Oyongo, Ciman, Lovitz, Duvall; Oduro, Bernardello, Donadel, Bernier, Piatti; Mancosu

Seattle: Frei; Svensson, Torres, Marshall, Jones; Alonso, Roldan; Fernandez, Dempsey, Lodeiro; Morris

How to Watch

Date/Time: Saturday, March 11 at 4 PM

Venue: Olympic Stadium, Montréal, Québec, Canada

Television: JoeTV 22.2 (Seattle area), ROOT Sports (outside Seattle area)

Radio: KIRO 97.3 (English), El Rey 1360 (Spanish)