2019 Match Preview #29: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Montreal Impact: 3 weeks too late

The Vancouver Whitecaps make the long trek to Montreal for the first and only time this season. After a tough defeat against San Jose during Rivalry Week, they now get to take on the Impact, a team that they have a much more storied rivalry with. With both teams coming off tough defeats, they will look to bring their A-games in front of the fans at Stade Saputo.

The history between these two teams dates back to way before they joined MLS, as they used to be fierce foes in the USL, a set-up that allowed them to play each other quite often each season, leading to the two developing a rather fierce rivalry. That, along with their tendency to meet in the Canadian Championship each year under the old group format, has led to some ferocious matchups between the two over the years. 

But with both teams now only meeting up once a year in MLS play, it leaves the Canadian Championship as the best remaining way for these teams to reunite and play intense, high-stakes football. It was expected the Whitecaps and Impact would have met in the semi-finals of that tournament this year, with the bracket set up for that to happen, but instead the Caps fell in historic fashion to CPL side Cavalry, and as they say, the rest is history. 

So while it would have been hoped that the Caps would have made their first trip to Montreal exactly 3 weeks ago as part of that tournament, they didn’t, so now this remains as their lone trip to La Belle Province in 2019, barring some miraculous MLS Cup appearance from both of them. So with that in mind, as well as the fact that the Caps playoff hopes are yet to fade away despite being on about as slim legs as you can imagine, Vancouver will want to come out firing, putting the sting of San Jose behind them in the process. 

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Injuries: Jhesser Khemiri (Knee), PC (Lower Body Injury), Erik Godoy (Lower Body Injury, Questionable)

Record: 6W-13L-9D (27 Points)

Manager: Marc Dos Santos

There are lots of lineup questions to be asked after the San Jose match, which saw some questionable performances in some areas of the pitch. The midfield was a particular black hole, with midfielders Andy Rose and Russell Teibert barely combining to complete more passes than keeper Max Crepeau, and that’s not to mention that Rose was caught out on both goals. After a couple of solid performances from the pair of them, you would have to think that at least 1 of them makes way to get some fresh blood on the field, especially considering the short turnaround from Saturday. 

The backline will stay the same, with Crepeau making a much-anticipated return to his home province to play the Impact, a team that he came up the academy ranks with, while the rest of his defenders stay in after decent enough performances despite being under siege for most of the game against the Earthquakes. Possible candidates to come out would be Nerwinski and one of the centre backs, but with no other healthy centre backs on the squad, not to mention that Nerwinski is coming off his first MLS goal, it would be surprising to see a change at either position. 

With Teibert and Rose both possibilities to be rotated, the big question mark will be around how Marc Dos Santos decides to line up his team further up the pitch. If he is to remove both Rose and Teibert, his lone options are the out of favour Jon Erice or young untested midfielders David Norman Jr and Michael Baldisimo (it is unclear if either of those two made the trip, however). Considering that, Dos Santos may shift formations, possibly to 4-2-3-1, which could allow for the insertion of Erice alongside Hwang In Beom in a double pivot, which would give Erice a Pirlo style role to impose his best attributes, while giving In Beom more freedom to roam. If that were to happen, it would pave the way for one of Micaell Chirinos or Lass Bangoura to return to the lineup on the left wing, leaving Theo Bair to occupy the right, while Fredy Montero and Yordy Reyna would take up the middle. 

Either way, there are no shortage of lineup possibilities for Dos Santos, and with his team getting dominated in San Jose, not to mention the short distance between games to go along with a cross-country flight, it could mean that a couple of intriguing changes will be in order. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Max Crepeau

Crepeau returns to Montreal for the first time as a Cap (Keveren Guillou)

All eyes will be on the Canadian for a multitude of reasons. Fresh off a record-breaking performance that led him to be named Audi Index Player of the Week despite the Caps loss, he will be looking to replicate similar form against his hometown team, albeit with much fewer shots coming his way. With only two more matches before Canada takes on Cuba next week in the Nations League, Crepeau will want to put up a good audition for national team John Herdman in these games, as he looks ready to start assuming the Canadian goalkeeping mantle that he will for sure take over in the next couple of seasons. 

Storylines:

Rivalry: Will we see seeds of the old rivalry? These teams haven’t played each other all season, and with a bunch of new faces on either side, they will need a spark to rekindle what was once a fierce derby. Will it happen on a late Wednesday evening match at Saputo? Stay tuned…

Rotation: Will Dos Santos rotate? If so, how much will he rotate? Dos Santos has been rather reluctant to rotate heavily in midweek affairs like this one, choosing to refresh his squad more gradually week-to-week, not to mention after bad performances. With the Caps fresh off a statistical pounding at the hand of Matias Almeyda’s Earthquakes, as well as coming off a long cross-continental flight and the prospect of a game less than 4 days later, this will be as good a time as any to freshen up the team. 

Montreal’s Chemistry: The Impact has their own string of questions to answer themselves. A new coach has arrived, as Remi Garde found him relieved of his duties much earlier than anyone would have thought, paving way for old Houston manager Wilmer Cabrera to join the Black and Blue. With the new coach, not to mention some mid-season signings such as Ballou Tabla, Bojan Krkic, Rod Fanni, Lassi Lappalainen and more, the Impact will need to gel, FAST, if they want to finish this season inside a playoff spot (which they are not currently that far off of). They have the horses to run, now let’s see if they can find the right track to do so. 

Montreal Impact:

Record: 10W-14L-4D (34 Points)

Manager: Wilmer Cabrera

As mentioned, the Impact has some fun pieces to watch. Maxi Urruti is an MLS veteran who knows how to find goals, while Bojan has the pedigree most Whitecaps fans dream of in the squad, with the former Barcelona man making his move to Montreal a couple of weeks ago. He scored in his first start last week, finding a goal in the 401 derby thanks to a marvellous right foot strike from 30 yards out, and he will certainly be hungry for more. Lappalainen scored on his debut and has only added to his tally since, including a brace a week and a half ago against Dallas, so the Finnish International will only cause problems for Jake Nerwinski or Scott Sutter depending on who Dos Santos goes with down that right side. With Saipher Taider controlling the midfield, and Orji Okwonkwo in the midst of an impressive campaign, not to mention the skills that Barcelona B loanee Ballou Tabla offers off the bench, Montreal can and has caused damage to teams who aren’t prepared to bring their defensive best for 90 minutes. 

The defence is where things get iffy, with Montreal going through a bit of an injury crisis that led former French International right-back Bacary Sagna to shift to a centre back role last game, a role that he may occupy again unless some of their reinforcements heal. They still do have centre back Jukka Raitala, who has been great for them, and good wing-backs in Daniel Lovitz and Zachary Brault Guillard, with the latter likely starting if Sagna shifts to the middle, making their unit solid enough on the whole. The one big question mark remains in goal, with Evan Bush in the midst of a disappointing campaign that has seen many fans openly lament the departure of Crepeau, as Bush has fallen way off his 2018 form, where he led the league in saves. 

Montreal does have a pretty deep team, as we have yet to mention stars Ignacio Piatti and Samuel Piette, who are both out with injury. If they can find some chemistry with the guys they have, Piette and Piatti return to bolster both midfield plus attack and the defenders such as Victor Cabrera, Rudy Camacho and now Rod Fanni can return to fitness, the Impact have the pieces to be an MLS contender. Will they? Starting tomorrow, we find out. 

Looking Forward:

Things kick off Wednesday, with both teams having had the time to train a couple of times this week ahead of the match. There should be a good atmosphere from the home crowd, and with a lot of Vancouverites calling Montreal home for various work and school-related reasons, the away fan contingent should be pretty good as well. Maybe MLS Rivalry week should have extended a couple of days to fit this one in….

Vancouver Whitecaps vs Montreal Impact, Wednesday, August 28th, 2019, 17:00 PST (Stade Saputo, Montreal)

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