Montreal, QC – The Montreal Impact will have plenty of motivation when they take the Stade Saputo pitch on Saturday to face the Columbus Crew.
Not only will Montreal be hoping to return to winning ways after suffering its first defeat of the season in a 2-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City, but the club will be out to avenge a disappointing result against Columbus last season.
The two sides met at Crew Stadium on Sept. 1, 2012 and the Impact had grabbed the lead through a classy finish from Marco Di Vaio. The visitors held a rare lead away from home but continued to push forward and keep the match open, allowing the Crew to win the match through late goals from Chad Marshall and Emilio Renteria, both of which were set up by Federico Higuain.
This season, though, Montreal has proven to be more organized in defense and tougher to break down. Patrice Bernier explained that experience has helped the Impact manage in-game situations better.
"We're better equipped, and we can withstand pressure better with a view of a surprise counterattack," the midfielder told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. "Toward the end of last season, we tended to dominate possession and away from home, that was a risk: At the end of games, we wanted to keep pushing and gaps opened for players like Higuain or [Jairo] Arrieta, who need space.
"We're now more experienced, more mature and better able to manage those tight games and hold strong at the end."
Montreal's much-improved shape and mentality has yielded a better defensive record as the club's four goals against have helped the Impact reach the Eastern Conference summit through the first five games of the season.
Columbus, by comparison, sits four points off of Montreal's pace. The Crew are quite wary of the Impact, who have started the season with a 4-0-1 record.
"[Montreal] had a good team last year, and obviously they've added some good pieces in the offseason to help out Di Vaio up top with [Andrea] Pisanu from Italy," Crew Technical Director Brian Bliss told the club's official website. "The core of that group is still together and the first four weeks they were 4-0.
"They're doing quite well and I think they're going to be a very tough task for us on the road."
While the continuity of Montreal's squad certainly is a factor, the addition of Marco Schallibaum at the head coaching position cannot be ignored as a key reason for the club's turnaround.
"Because of the European influence in Montreal, they have a knowledgeable fan base, a very passionate fan base," Bliss continued. "The Impact has brought in a very European influence with their coach and a lot of their signings. They're well-coached, they have a well-constructed roster."