Since we're about a half hour away from kickoff, I'll dispense with the preamble. This Q&A was with Sofiane Benzaza of Mount Royal Soccer, SB Nation's Montreal Impact blog. You can read the reverse edition there.
TBM: So, all right then. Coming off a decent season, the Impact had a lot of roster turnover and brought in an international coach unproven in MLS play. Forgive us if we expected a fringe playoff berth. Instead, with two games in hand on their nearest competitors, Montreal is in first place in the East. What's been the key to such a sustained run of dominance?
SB: Well, the momentum of 2012 was not all lost and the positives that came out from the Jesse Marsch era are still here. But the strength of the team is feeds itself directly from the strength of the club, the organization. The Montreal Impact is not new to North American Soccer and started the 2013 season its way.
I never put much weight on the MLS ‘'European coaches'' curse that has been going on. It's all about having the right people, at the right time, at the right place. The 2012 mid-season acquisition, Marco Di Vaio, has had time to rest and go through a full pre-season and it's paying off.
I myself still expected a fringe playoff berth but did not expect D.C. United and the Chicago Fire to be so poor compared to last year. My biggest hypothesis and assumption was that the health of core older players would make or break the season.
TBM: That "sustained run" suffered a midsummer blip not too long ago, and it looked like everyone's initial impressions of the Impact would bear out. Instead, Montreal tore themselves out of it and stormed back into first. Who made the biggest difference in getting back to the top of the table?
SB: Predictability, Home Games, Marco Di Vaio and Justin Mapp
Marco Di Vaio scored 90%+ of his goals at home and had some personal distractions (sickness in the family) that made him go back to Italy. Since coming back, Di Vaio has scored tons of goals and the club has leaned on a rejuvenated Justin Mapp. Mapp has been huge and arguably one of the most dangerous players of late in Major League Soccer.
TBM: Marco di Vaio is absolutely on fire, Patrice Bernier is steady and effective, and Felipe is Felipe, but the guy I'm most intrigued by is head coach Marco Schallibaum. He's been sent off what, twice now? Does he have a temper problem? And how has he adapted so well to the coaching life in MLS, discipline aside?
SB: He was sent off three times and yes he has a temper problem. He was tagged as passionate when he was hired and that means fiery in the coded language of professional sports. He has crossed the thin line between temper problems and passion. Still acting as a player, he is not necessarily obscene.
Adaptation wise, I doubt that he will explode again anytime soon with the final stretch of the season upon us. But a bad decision going against the Impact would definitely bring back SchalliBOOM, especially when a playoff berth is not guaranteed.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
SB: Justin Mapp continues to be under the radar even though he is on every scouting report of every team, every media, and every fan. I still think that his quiet demeanor and subtle Mississippi accent makes him a under the radar player but a huge part of the Impact's success in 2013.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
SB: Perkins - Camara , Nesta , Ferrari , Brovsky - Bernier , Arnaud , Nyassi , Mapp, Felipe - Di Vaio