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Revolution vs. Impact, Part Deux: New England looks to defeat Montreal for sixth straight time

The Revs travel north of the border to face an Impact side on a four-game MLS skid.

MLS: Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls
Chilean international Jeisson Vargas has been a bright spot for Montreal this season
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, what a difference a month makes. In early April, New England and Montreal were only a point apart (7-6 Revs) in the Eastern Conference table as they lined up for kickoff at Gillette Stadium. Since then, not much has gone right for the Impact, as their point total hasn’t changed at all over the course of four weeks. Meanwhile, following their 4-0 victory over 10-man Montreal on April 6, the Revolution have doubled their point total for the season.

Headed in opposite directions, these Eastern Conference rivals meet for the second time in 2018, this one at Stade Saputo in Montreal.

First Meeting: April 6, 2018, at Gillette Stadium

Result: Revs 4, Impact 0

Following a 15th minute ejection of Montreal attacking midfielder Saphir Taider for a dangerous challenge on Luis Caicedo, the Revs rolled to an easy victory. Two goals before halftime (Teal Bunbury and Andrew Farrell) were balanced out by two second-half goals (Diego Fagundez and Wilfried Zahibo) for New England, as the outcome was never really in doubt. Impact leading scorer Ignacio “Nacho” Piatti missed the match due to an injury acquired late in the week.

Breaking Down Montreal (2-6-0, 6 pts, -11)

Current Form: L-L-L-L-W

Manager Remi Garde’s first season in Montreal has not unfolded as he would have liked. Following two narrow road losses to start 2018, he seemed to have righted the ship with successive wins over last year’s MLS Cup finalists. Then Montreal visited New England, and it’s been tough sledding ever since, losing all four April matches — three on the road — by an average score of 4-1. They’ve been outpossessed, outshot, and outclassed by every opponent — albeit top-shelf competition — along the way.

There is a silver lining. The Impact were tied at the half at Red Bull Arena before falling 3-1. They held two 2-goal leads past halftime against LAFC — despite being a man down — before allowing an epic comeback in a 5-3 defeat. And last weekend, visiting Montreal led Atlanta United for almost 70 minutes before the hosts won going away 4-1, with three of their late goals coming from set pieces.

The Impact have struggled defensively since losing veteran center back Rod Fanni to injury in mid-April. Their makeshift back line has allowed eleven goals in the two-and-a-half matches he’s missed. Seeking solutions, Garde even changed his 5-3-2 formation — where Fanni had occupied the sweeper role — to a 4-5-1 for the Atlanta match and their high-pressing style. It actually worked, for the most part, as the Impact stayed compact and organized defensively. Their discipline forced the United attack out wide to the wings where it was rendered generally ineffective until the late breakthrough.

The attack has been futile as well. Montreal is second to last in goals scored (for teams that have played at least eight matches). Only DC United has fewer shots on goal for the season, and the Impact are dead last in MLS on corner kicks. Piatti does have four goals on the year, but three came in the wild loss to an LAFC team that allows nearly two goals per match. Forward/winger Jeisson Vargas has tallied three scores for the Impact, relieving some of the goal-producing burden from Piatti. And attacking midfielder Saphir Taider finally opened his MLS account vs Atlanta. It seems to be just a matter of time before these three get in sync.

Many supporters believe the club is finally gaining an understanding of how Garde wants them to play. They just doubt he has the personnel to make it work. If the results don’t start coming in, most fully expect one or two major signings this summer.

Breaking Down New England (4-2-2, 14 pts, +5)

Current Form: W-D-L-W-W

The Revs earned a full three points at home vs Western Conference leaders Sporting KC in a 1-0 victory that felt more like a draw. Bunbury’s fourth goal of the season — one not without controversy — proved to be the game-winner. The two teams played similar pressing styles in an uptempo match that was essentially even, except for Sporting’s decided — but expected — advantage in possession (57%-43%).

First-year manager Brad Friedel fielded the same lineup and formation that drew 2-2 at Columbus a week earlier. Bunbury was up top, with an attacking midfield of Cristian Penilla- Fagundez-Caicedo-Juan Agudelo; Zahibo at defensive mid; and a back line of Gabriel Somi-Claude Dielna-Jalil Anibaba-Farrell. Matt Turner once again minded the net. Kristzian Nemeth, former starter Scott Caldwell, and rookie Brandon Bye came on as second-half subs. Kelyn Rowe remained on the shelf recovering from a knee injury and thus was left off the matchday roster, as was a supposedly healthy and fit — and now former Rev — Lee Nguyen.

The post-match buzz centered on Bunbury’s irregular goal, overshadowing a solid defensive performance put in by New England. Led by Turner’s four saves and third clean sheet of the season, the Revs shut down the league’s highest scoring team, handing them a shutout for the first time since Week One. Right back Farrell and center back Dielna were both selected to the MLS Team of the Week for their efforts. The Revs’ defense — whose eight goals allowed is second fewest in MLS — may finally be rounding into form.

Analysis

Only a quarter of the way into the season, it’s hard to conceive the Impact have already given up on making the playoffs despite their poor start. Anything can happen in MLS. Regarding New England, Montreal can take solace in the fact that the first match was played absent their star Piatti and, for the most part, their number ten Taider who was red-carded early on. They’ll have a chance for a full-strength re-do on their home pitch, possibly still minus Fanni, but with the return from suspension of veteran Argentinian center back Victor Cabrera. Despite their being 0-for-April, it’s now May, and a wounded team can be a dangerous team.

The Impact did have success containing the high-pressing Atlanta United attack for most of last week’s match. Will Garde put out the same 4-5-1 formation to contend with New England’s similar tactics on Saturday?

Match Facts

This is the 18th regular season meeting all-time between these Eastern Conference rivals. New England holds a slight edge in the overall series at 8-7-2. The clubs are dead even at Montreal with a 4-4-1 mark.

The Revolution have won five straight vs Montreal, including their last two at Stade Saputo.

New England’s last visit to Montreal was also the final match of 2017. The Revs were victorious that day by a 3-2 score, earning their first and only win away from home last season.

The Revolution and Impact will meet a third and final time this season on October 28 — Decision Day 2018 — at Gillette Stadium.

How to Watch

Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 5
Venue: Stade Saputo, Montreal, Quebec
TV: NBC Sports Boston (Boston); TVAS (Montreal)
Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub (Boston); News Talk Radio CJAD 800 (Montreal)
Streaming: ESPN+