MONTREAL – Tim Cahill won’t play at Stade Saputo tomorrow when New York visits Montréal, but with the much anticipated MLS debut of former Italian international Alessandro Nesta slated for tomorrow’s 7:30 p.m Eastern kickoff, the Impact’s match with the Eastern Conference-leading Red Bulls won’t lack for star power.
Consider Nesta, Kenny Cooper, and Sebastien Le Toux are not even designated players. Nor is this year’s number one draft pick, Andrew Wenger, who is expected to see some playing time as he returns from injury. Likewise, Matteo Ferrari – a former Italian international – could see time. Rafa Marquez’s calf will keep him sidelined, but two other designated players, Thierry Henry and Marco Di Vaio, will be the focal points of their teams’ attacks.
Star-studded affairs may be becoming more frequent in Major League Soccer, but Saturday’s game will be one of the league’s brightest in the league’s recent history.
For the Impact, who expect one of their best crowds of the season at Stade Saputo, the number of names above the title are irrelevant. Seven points behind Chicago for the East’s final playoff spot (with the Fire holding three matches in hand), Montréal needs a run to extend their first MLS season beyond 34 games.
“At this point in the season, it’s a game that we feel like it’s important to win,” captain Davy Arnaud said after Friday’s practice. “[The Red Bulls] have a lot of players who are dangerous … it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
“I think we have a lot draw on,” head coach Jesse Marsch said, his team having been outscored 7-2 in two losses to New York this season. “We feel like in both those games we still had very good moments.”
Seven goals allowed speaks for itself, though, and with New York having added Le Toux since the teams met on May 19, Marsch is happy to have his best defenders available.
“Alessandro, Nelson [Rivas], Matteo and Andrew [Wenger]” will be available, Marsch confirmed, adding his team’s first draft pick to the list. “Having all four of those guys back in our team is a big plus.
“We know that those guys are going to be key guys and they’re going to help us.”
Ferrari, speaking of his own potential return, confirmed Nesta and Rivas are set to start.
“I talked with the coach. He said they were going to start with Nelson and Alessandro because they are more fit … I think I will have 30 minutes, or something like that.”
Regardless of who starts, the focus will be on set pieces, both defending and executing in attack. Montreal spent the final part of Friday’s practice working on them, and with Zarek Valentin still “another couple of weeks” away from returning from injury (according to Marsch), Houssan Camara at right back will keep one of the Impact’s better players on set pieces in the team.
But Camara alone won’t solve a problem which has become multi-faceted.
“It’s not giving bad fouls and bad set pieces,” Marsch said, trying to explain the problem. “It’s the mental focus. It’s the execution, the physical execution on the field, the communication.”
Fixing the problem, however, requires balance.
“What we don’t want to do is emphasize it so much that now we just start to panic every time we have a set piece. We still want to have [confidence in] how we do things, how we’re going to approach it, and how we’re going to deal with it.”
“I think what we went through today, it was a good exercise. I expect us to be ready.”
Thankfully for Montréal, they won’t have to be ready for a fully loaded Red Bulls’ team. Marquez will be out, while Tim Cahill is unlikely to receive his P-1 visa in time to make the trip to Stade Saputo. But even without two designated players, New York’s firepower asks an eternal question in game preparation: How much does a team adjust their own approach for the team they’re facing?
“You always want to stay true to what you’re good at and who you think you are,” Marsch explained. “I don’t think you want to take it so far so that you’re only thinking of what they do, but you certainly have to address it within the group.”
Once New York’s latest piece is available, Marsch sees balance as Red Bulls’ biggest concern, a concern with which he can empathize:
“Their major challenge now is how to use all of them, how to balance the team out. For us, we have a similar situation where now we feel like we have some really strong center backs … You don’t want to throw off the rhythm and the balance that [the players] established as a team, but you should also [focus on] how do you get your best players on the field, how they can make plays, and how they can make the difference for you.”
Those concerns will be on Marsch’s mind Saturday, with Nesta available while three players retur from injury. Trying to get each of them time, managing substitutions will be an issue for Marsch, which is why a Di Vaio-Wenger pairing may be relegated to a late-match solution.
“We just have to be careful with how many [players] we put on the field from the start that we’re not sure if they can make 90,” according to Marsch. “That’s the major consideration now when we’re thinking about things. But I expect all four of Rivas, Nesta, Ferrari, and Wenger to factor in tomorrow.”