No question that two of the league’s most interesting teams will be at Stade Saputo on Saturday, when the surprising Montreal Impact meets the young and surprising Philadelphia Union.
Montreal has been highly organized and far more adept at collecting points than anyone might have expected under Marco Schallibaum, an MLS newbie who is proving that foreign managers with no experience in the league can sometimes quickly find their feet. (He’s bucking a general trend that says otherwise, one now playing out more typically at Chivas USA.)
Don’t let Montreal’s fourth-place standing in the Eastern Conference fool you; in terms of points per game (2.0), only one other club has done so well. The fact that Montreal is fourth is reflective of Major League Soccer’s unstable scheduling practices; while the Impact has played just 10 matches, some clubs have played as many as 14.
And consider that Montreal keeps getting healthier. Captain Davy Arnaud (pictured, on the right) should return from the concussion issues that has kept him out recently. Midfield teammate Felipe and underrated outside back Jeb Brovsky (who will be wearing a mask) could be in for a return to the lineup.
And now it looks like veteran Italian center back Alessandro Nesta is healthy enough to get back on the field.
A busy May around Stade Saputo means that some Impact regulars can surely use a break. Then again, Justin Mapp is having the kind of season that has eluded the once-promising midfielder in recent years, so you hate to see any mounting momentum slip away. And second-year man Andrew Wenger is benefitting from regular playing time.
Philadelphia never earns many style points, but Hackworth’s young team is grinding out points at a surprising rate, currently fifth in the East. So many of the close wins are about MLS scoring leader Jack McInerney and those great instincts near goal, used to wonderful effect in accumulating a league-leading five game-winners.
But grinders or no, Hackworth’s team is chalk full of interesting parts.
Brazilian playmaker Kleberson needed time to get fit, but he has helped stabilize the Union’s midfield possession.
Conor Casey, now healthy again, has linked with McInerney to form a solid forward pairing.
McInerney played a more withdrawn role last week, proving that he can be more than a pure goal scorer.
In the back, young goalkeeper Zac MacMath hasn’t always been perfect, but the mistakes are coming at a slower rate than years past.
In center backs Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke and in outside backs Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis, the defense has solid parts to build around, even if the cohesion has not always been there.
Few would have picked these teams as playoff favorites as the season begin in March, but they both have the look of one now, especially in Montreal’s case.
Kickoff is 7 p.m.; the official match preview from MLSSoccer.com is here.