The New England Revolution are gearing up for a three-match road trip by traveling north of the border to Quebec to take on the MLS newcomers known as the Montreal Impact on Wednesday night for their second game in just four days. It will be the second time in a row the Revs have faced a Canadian side, having just fallen to Toronto 0-1 on the weekend. Montreal, meanwhile, just gave up a tough 2-1 defeat away to Philadelphia.
Montreal is a decent team struggling with typical expansion side woes. They're better at home than away from it, but the Impact defense is incredibly suspect and their offense is spread thin due to injuries. This is a perfect chance for the Revolution to improve their abysmal away record, and it will probably only take one goal to do it. Either way, this isn't a match the Revs can afford to sleep on; New England may have three games in hand on Montreal, but the Impact are still just one point behind them in the standings.
Today's Q&A is with Giovanni Sardo of Mount Royal Soccer, SB Nation's Montreal Impact blog. Check out our answers to his questions over there when they go up.
TBM: The Impact might be the newest guys at the party in MLS, but the club is far from brand new. How has the jump to MLS affected the fan culture that already existed around Montreal's club, and how do you see it developing over time? As well, I've read some disturbing reports about the Impact having difficulty filling their new digs at Stade Saputo. You guys filled up Olympic Stadium! What's the issue been, and do you see it getting resolved soon?
GS: I don't want to take a shortcut here, but I'd invite your readers to read my article that came out about 10 days ago on this topic. Long story short, it's been a question of marketing. The organisation hasn't done enough since they announced they were coming to the MLS. They seemed to believe that last year's fan base and everyone else who is a Soccer fan in this city would just jump in. It wasn't the case. The marketing campaign wasn't aggressive enough to go out and get people off their couches and to the stadium.
The two games at the Olympic Stadium that had 59,000+ fans were more than just games, they were events. We love our events in Montreal. The home opener of the franchise was the first one (kind of like Baseball opening day, everyone comes out for that one, disappears for the next one. The second one was Beckham-mania. There were only about 15,000 true Impact facs at the game. The other 45,000 were there to see Beckham. Sad, quite sad. In fact, after the game, Zarek Valentin even tweeted how deflating it was to see plenty of people wearing Impact blue cheering on Beckham's goal. You don't cheer for the opponent like that. Period.
Recently, our owner Joey Saputo addressed this issue by offering new, low priced, fan friendly packages to try and generate new interest. We will see over the course of the next few home games if it has worked. It is a step in the right direction but until the Impact logo gets plastered all over the city, the attendance issues may continue.
TBM: In what I thought was a surprising move, Montreal got rid of Justin Braun this past week. What do you think motivated that move, and how do you see the front office filling out what is now looking like a really, really thin forward corps?
GS: Justin Braun's departure was no surprise here in Montreal and I think every die hard Impact fan thanked Nick De Santis (our Sporting Director) and Joey Saputo (Owner) for the move. Justin just didn't fit in. I think he had a great lack of confidence since his trade here in the offseason. Jesse Marsch gave him plenty of chances but he didn't take advantage of them. He had a poor first touch, poor passing ability and poor positioning. He spent more time in midfield than anywhere else. He'd often take the ball just over half, go on a great 25 yard run, look up and get discouraged to see that there was another 20-25 yards to go and would lose the ball easily. I wish him nothing but the best. I hope he remembers where he left his confidence.
As for filling out the forward corps, this is another huge issue.
We have Marco Di Vaio, our DP who is healthy and getting closer to that first goal but he needs help. First overall pick Andrew Wenger is getting closer to full health and should be part of the starting XI soon. Then there's Eduardo Sebrango, a 39 year old carry over from our NASL days that the fans love but sadly, has nothing to offer at this level.
Midfielder, Captain and team warrior Davy Arnaud has been used at forward and while he leaves it all on the field, he simply lacks the speed to be a constant threat. Winger Sanna Nyassi has also been used in that role but he's too much of a wildcard. He has a hard time communicating with our forwards/midfielders and while he can be spectacular at times, he is simply too inconsistent.
Macedonian Bajram Fetai is on trial with the club. He is a former teammate of current Impact player Patrice Bernier from his Denmark days. There are also rampant rumors of Alessandro Del Piero coming in as the next DP. Needless to say our front office is working the phones non-stop for solutions.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player we should watch out for in this match.
GS: Although people around the league are starting to notice him more and more, I will go with Felipe. MLS rookie, discovered by the Impact during the offseason, he is our midfield fireball. He plays hard, 100 miles an hour, creates on offense, disturbs on defense and can fire off a cannon shot when he wants. He makes everyone on the field better. He's the kind of talented pain in the butt that other teams hate but would take on their team any day. He's one of our bright spots and he's only getting better. Many believe that in 2-3 years, he could either return to Europe or get paid DP money.
A treat to watch. Enjoy!
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
GS: Projected lineup (4-3-2-1)
Zarek Valentin - Shavar Thomas - Hassoun Camara - Jeb Brovsky
Lamar Neagle - Patrice Bernier - Collen Warner
Felipe - Davy Arnaud
Marco Di Vaio
Final score: 3-2 Montreal Impact takes the 3 points.