Supporters tuning in to MLS action this weekend might not consider the matchup between the Montreal Impact and Chicago Fire a must-see, however the two sides should be treating its eastern conference clash on Saturday with the urgency of a cup final.
After the dismal season these clubs have had, to say that either side could actually make a run for the cup, or even make the playoffs, seems like hyperbole. But the fact remains that a winner from this match will hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the east (depending on other results – Chicago/Montreal needs Orlando to lose or draw at New England).
Thanks to the MLS rule-change this year, expanding the playoff field from five clubs to six from either conference, every last bottom feeder in the east has a chance of turning playoff dreams into reality.
Perhaps Chicago doesn’t deserve that fate given it’s the only MLS club this season without a road win. (0-7-5) This week’s matchup against an unexceptional Impact side should be as good of a chance as any to notch that first away win.
The Montreal Impact is arguably the worst club in the league right now. The MLS power rankings for this week have the French Canadian side at 14 out of 20, compared to Chicago at 17. Montreal would probably be even closer to the bottom if it weren’t for it’s strong roster, including none other than recent blockbuster signing Didier Drogba.
Pardon the pun, but the long-time Chelsea legend has had little to no impact on his new club thus far. (Sorry, couldn’t help it) TV announcer for the Impact Olivier Brett mentioned on Chicago Fire Weekly Saturday morning how magnificent and wild the scene was when Drogba arrived in Montreal, but that it felt like he was still at the airport.
The Ivory Coast international has only played in one match since his arrival, and while it wasn’t terrible, it was nothing to write home about. He missed a couple matches with a toe injury, but the star striker will be an available option off the bench Saturday night.
Attacking midfielder Ignacio Piatti will also be available off the bench for the Impact, and fullback Hassoun Camara is expected to start after being away with injuries. This should come as a relief to interim coach Mauro Biello, who will see his first action in that role after former Chicago Fire legend and coach Frank Klopas was let go by Montreal, making him the first MLS coaching casualty of 2015.
Injuries won’t be so much of an issue for either side this week, however both clubs are dealing with several absences due to international call-ups.
It will be interesting to see both clubs’ selections and formations Saturday given the high volume of absences. Chicago will be missing three key players this week, including midfielder Matt Polster (USA U-23), winger and forward David Accam (Ghana), and wingback Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago), who scored a world-class goal from a free kick Friday night against Mexico to help his country’s side to a 3-3 draw against El Tri. Sean Johnson will be available in goal in Montreal Saturday, but was also called up this week (USA), and will miss next week’s road match against the New York Red Bulls on September 11, for an international friendly against Brazil.
Montreal will also be sending off several players to represent club and country. The Impact will be without fullbacks Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon) and Eric Miller (USA U-23), as well as midfielders Johan Venegas (Costa Rica) and Kyle Bekker (Canada).
The Chicago Fire and its supporters will be hoping for a repeat of its 3-0 victory the last time these clubs met on May 30. Based on Montreal’s recent form, perhaps we’ll see a similar result. The Impact is winless in its last six, which was bad enough to get Frank Klopas out of town. But a new coach could give Montreal new life, not to mention we could have a Drogba sighting Saturday night; a dangerous prospect for any opposing club in the world.
Kickoff is set for Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. CT (CSN Chicago).