On Wednesday night Atlanta United fully contained the LA Galaxy and stopped their flashy French winter Romain Alessandrini from making his mark in the game. United will look to continue the trend of foiling the Francophiles as l’Impact de Montreal bring the poutine party down south. By now, it’s clear that the Five Stripes are going to score a ton of goals, force teams to panic, and, when the first choice center backs are on the field at least, stop everyone from scoring on them.
For their part Montreal comes into the game having broken a four game losing streak, which oddly followed a four game winning streak. It is another team, along with New England and Orlando, that must win in Mercedes Benz Stadium if they want to make the playoffs. The Impact are a little different though, they actually have a chance to make up enough points to pass by either the New York Red Bulls, who continue to expose themselves as frauds, or the Columbus Crew, who need to keep winning as teams with games in hand close the points gap with them.
Anyway, here’s what to watch for...
Which version of Montreal shows up?
So far this year the Impact have tried to be two different teams. To start the season, they tried to be a possession oriented team that thought they could make plays to get the ball to Ignacio Piatti and let the forward carry them to victory. That didn’t work, Piatti was injured for part of the year, and Montreal ended up near the bottom of the table along with Orlando City and DC United.
Then coach Mauro Biello changed things up and went back to what worked last year, that is countering and allowing new comer Blerim Dzemaili drop pinpoint passes to attackers in transition. Things seemed to be turning for Montreal and it looked like the team would seriously challenge for a playoff spot when they won four in a row between August 5th and August 19th only to lose the next four between August 27th and September 16th.
On Wednesday night, the team faced Toronto FC who thought they could get by without playing Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and Victor Vazquez and were, well, almost right. Although Montreal put up five goals, at least two were complete trash including one that was scored when TFC keeper Alex Bono hit a clearance that smashed into Piatti’s backside and deflected into the goal.
Behold, the most accurate goal description in the history of soccer Twitter:
Toronto seemed to panic in the game without their three best players and by the time they regained their composure, the deficit was too great to overcome even though they managed to score three goals. Atlanta won’t do that but Montreal can still do somethings to cause problems on the counter against the Five Stripes.
What else am I supposed to say?
Have you been watching this team over the past four games? Every match I come out and write about 1000 words, thanks for reading them, about how the game is going to play out. But aside from learning about our opponents, what else can I say about the game? There really aren’t any teams that are going to be able to bunker against Atlanta at MBS, we’ve established that, and Montreal doesn’t have defenders good enough to do that anyway.
So either the game will be a little more open and back and forth like it was against Orlando or it will be another blow out like it was against Dallas, New England, and Los Angeles. It doesn’t seem like Parkhurst and LGP are going to cough up three goals as a center back pair, so a shootout seems unlikely. Garza should be, might be, back so the left side of the attack will be even stronger and the defense will be that much more resolute, but McCann seems to have settled in as a temporary replacement over there anyway. So, with that out of the way, what else is there?
By now we know that Tata Martino has figured out that his players are professional damn athletes in peak physical condition and the ones that have to cover the most ground are all under 25 years old, they can run for days. It is a lesson that seemingly no MLS manager has figured out until now, just ask Jesse March, he rested half his squad over the weekend to save their legs in the US Open Cup Final and the New York Fraud Bulls still got smoked by Sporting Kansas City, and rightfully so. Until he says otherwise Tata isn’t resting anybody.
As far as other themes in the game, could Atlanta United be fueled by revenge for the miscarriage of justice that led to losing the first game in Montreal? Sure, maybe, but frankly it doesn’t seem like this team is really about that. Back when the billboard war broke out with Orlando City nobody was biting when the topic of a rivalry was brewing. That really doesn’t seem to be Tata’s style, plus Josef Martinez gets mad even when he scores a hat trick so a lack of intensity won’t be a problem for the team.
Atlanta also seems to have resolved the issues it had around losing concentration against teams from early in the season. 17 goals in four games and a 10 game unbeaten streak at home should basically put that baby to bed.
Atlanta United is the best team in MLS right now - period. They’re chasing down the Chicago Fire and NYCFC and could end up in second place in the Eastern Conference behind only Toronto FC who are putting together the best season in MLS history. They’re doing it by averaging more than four goals a game at their new stadium to boot, so to go back to the title of the article - what to watch for: goals. Atlanta is going to score a lot of them and we should enjoy each and every one of them.