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Match #20 Preview: Philadelphia Union At Montreal Impact

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Setting: Saturday, August 4 at Stade Saputo in Montreal; kickoff scheduled for 7:38:30 PM Eastern

Broadcast Information: The Comcast Network (Rob Weingarten, Bob Rigby), with coverage beginning at 7:00 PM Eastern with a pre-game show / TVA Sports (Frédéric Lord, Olivier Brett), CJAD-AM 800 (Rick Moffat, Grant Needham) in Montreal / MLS Live, Direct Kick (The Comcast Network feed)

Montreal's Record: 8-13-3 (7th in East)

Montreal's Last Match: W, 3-1 vs. New York

Philadelphia vs. Montreal This Season: 1-0-0 (Montreal 1 @ Philadelphia 2 on July 14)

For the Montreal Perspective, Visit Mount Royal Soccer

For the second week in a row, the Philadelphia Union will face an opponent directly above them in the standings, as they travel north to Montreal for their first-ever visit to Stade Saputo to take on the Montreal Impact. Both the Union and Impact are coming off big wins: Philadelphia against New England for their first comeback victory of the season, and Montreal convincingly over the then-Eastern Conference leading New York Red Bulls. These two clubs met just three weeks ago at PPL Park, with Philadelphia pulling out a late 2-1 victory in a match that frankly Montreal deserved better in, thanks in large part to the speed of Marco Di Vaio (more on him later). Since then, both have done what they can to move up in the standings, but continue to sit a good bit out of playoff position. Montreal occupies the seventh position, five points behind fifth place Chicago Fire (who have three matches in hand on the Impact). The Union occupy eighth, nine points behind Chicago, but with two matches in hand against the Fire. Points continue to be a necessity for the Impact and Union if they want to earn a wildcard spot or automatic playoff spot. The Union continue to hold matches in hand against everyone ahead of them except for Columbus, including five in hand against their opponent tomorrow night. Barring one or more teams ahead of them having a mini-meltdown, those matches in hand are really the primary reason that one can reasonably say the Union still have an outside shot at the postseason, assuming their run under John Hackworth continues.

From a personnel perspective, each side could see one big change. Philadelphia will probably be gaining the services of a true shutdown defender, while Montreal has lost its star up top. The Malian international Bakary Soumare, acquired by the team on June 26, is finally finishing up his recovery from right knee meniscus surgery. He traveled with the team to Montreal, and will be available for selection tomorrow night. It sets up an interesting internal competition for the central defender role opened up by the trade of Danny Califf to Chivas USA. Amobi Okugo, the defensively-sound midfielder, has been superb in his work with team captain Carlos Valdes, filling in regularly since the Califf trade, and developing a strong chemistry that the Union are loathe to break, given their success and the need for points. The Union do not have one or two matches that they can afford to give up an extra goal in as Valdes and Soumare learn each other's tendencies. But acquiring Soumare, a 2008 nominee for MLS Defender of the Year, came at a big price for the Union, and while Okugo is positionally versatile, Soumare is really not. The choice between Okugo and Soumare has been in the back of everyone's mind for the past month as Soumare completed his rehab, and with Soumare now ready, Hackworth has to make a decision that one certainly cannot envy. Montreal will be without striker Marco Di Vaio, who is in Italy dealing with a tribunal over match fixing that could see him banned from soccer for up to six months. It's a potentially terrible blow for the Impact and Di Vaio, forgetting his $1.9 million salary that the Impact may have to eat after only getting eight matches of his services. As the Union saw when they hosted Di Vaio and the Impact, he was truly on the brink of clicking and becoming one of the preeminent threats in MLS. He finally scored his first MLS goal last week. His (very) high pressure will certainly be missed and is a huge relief for the Union, and primarily Zac MacMath.

In Di Vaio's place will be Lancaster native Andrew Wenger, who returned from a hamstring injury last week against New York. He's no Di Vaio, but he's quick on his feet and can finish quickly. Felipe Martens and Patrice Bernier will also shoulder much of the burden from Di Vaio's absence. Felipe in particular is coming into tomorrow's match on a hot streak, registering assists on all three Impact goals against New York. They both can hide in midfield when they need to, only to burn you when you're not looking. The Impact will also be without defender Zarek Valentin (also a Lancaster native), but with Alessandro Nesta now in the fold, it's honestly kind of hard to complain. The Impact have won their last three home matches, while Philadelphia has struggled on the road. If one or both of these teams hope to earn a postseason berth, a result tomorrow night is a must.

Projected starters, injury reports, and assorted match notes after the jump...

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: MacMath; G. Farfan, Valdes, Soumare, Williams; Lahoud, Carroll, Gomez; Adu, Pajoy, McInerney

Montreal: Ricketts; Ferrari, Rivas, Nesta, Brovsky; Warner, Bernier; Mapp, Arnaud; Felipe; Wenger

Injury updates:

For Philadelphia, Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms) is unavailable. Michael Farfan is "questionable" due to a left foot contusion. Bakary Soumare is "probable".

For Montreal, Zarek Valentin (left ankle sprain) and Bernardo Corradi (left knee ACL tear) are unavailable.

Of note:

  • Ismail Elfath is listed as tomorrow's match referee. In just three MLS matches (yikes), Elfath has called an average of 23.7 fouls per match, handed out an average of two yellow cards per match, given a total of two red cards (yikes), and has awarded a total of three penalty kicks (yikes). Watch out for the officiating in this one.
  • Michael Farfan is one yellow card away from receiving an automatic one-match disciplinary suspension for yellow card accumulation.
  • Although Antoine Hoppenot received his first MLS start last weekend against New England, all indications are that he will return to the super-sub role tomorrow against the Impact.
  • Here's a weird stat for you: the Impact are 5-1-1 when Sanna Nyassi starts at home, and 6-1-2 when Justin Mapp starts at home. Overall, the Impact are 7-3-2 at home.
  • The Impact have scored 33 goals so far this season, well on pace to break the expansion team record of 40, set by the Timbers last year.
  • The Impact are 0-6-0 when trailing at halftime. (The Union are 1-3-1.)
  • Just over half of the Impact's conceded goals -- 23 of 43 -- have come in the final thirty minutes of matches. Similarly, 13 of the Union's 22 conceded goals have come in the final thirty minutes of matches, though of course 23 is a whole lot more than 13.
  • The Impact announced that there are less than 2,000 tickets remaining for tomorrow's match, which is good news, since the Impact have struggled to fill the 20,341-seat Stade Saputo (though they had no trouble filling Olympic Stadium earlier this season).

The Union and Impact both look to continue their push up the standings. If you are one of the 100 Sons of Ben who made the trek to Montreal for tomorrow night, enjoy it! Otherwise, we hope you can join us tomorrow night for a gamethread!