Continuing with the Montreal Preview theme of the day, I shared three questions with Sofiane Benzaza, surely the coolest name among SBN Soccer editors and the main architect behind Mount Royal Soccer, the brand new Impact blog. First my questions for her, then vice versa.
1. For most FC Dallas fans this will be their first ever look at Montreal Impact. Tell us a little bit about the team and who the most important players are in the Starting XI?
Donovan Ricketts, Matteo Ferrari , Justin Mapp , Sanna Nyassi are 4 key players that I find to be important in the Montreal Impact. I could have the central midfielders but I will package them in a bundle: Patrice Bernier, Felipe Martins and Collen Warner. As a group, all these players contribute a lot in setting the tone in the game and representing the style of the team: tough, compact, technical and frustrating.
I dont usually like pointing out specific players being more important than others as the Montreal Impact's modus operandi is based on cohesion, teamwork and trust. In the image of the head coach Jesse Marsch, the squad will not shy away from being a physical, in your face team while maintaining a high level of technical soccer especially with a goal to have ball possession. A weak point would be the lack of finishing in the last third but the arrival of Bernardo Corradi has helped a lot as he provides a good target for his team-mates .
2. Montreal has allowed 12 goals which is significantly more than any other team in the league. What has been the problem with the defense and how can they improve things?
The game against the New York Red Bulls really increased the total as the Montreal Impact lost 5-2. Add to that 2 penalty kicks and 3 goals in their first ever MLS game, you could say that these are the beginnings of an expansion team. As a unit, the team is still looking for its defensive basis as they integrate new players and other players that play out of position.
Matteo Ferrari is a rock but had to adapt to play in MLS and his class is showing even more and more, becoming a general. Tyson Wahl was his partner for a few games but has since taken on the role of the left back, a role much more familiar to him. There are some gaps by the outside backs, not being the strongest defensively but it is a price to pay when trying to make plays from the wider positions.
Improvements have been noted and a better defensive synchronisation as a unit will only get better from the midfielders that will pinch in to the important pressing of the forwards.
3. FCD places a huge emphasis on attacking down the wings, who do you anticipate to start at outside backs for Montreal and do you consider it a strength or a weakness?
The outside backs are not the strongest defensive players out there. With some lack of experience on the right side with Jeb Brovsky and Zarek Valentin , both offer youth and athleticism but can be sometimes found out of position, something that Real Salt Lake has taken advantage of. The left backs whether it is Josh Gardner or Tyson Wahl like to provide more offensive support up front and will pose a risk to defend against quick wingers.But this is to be expected and from there, its all about the defensive midfielders or side midfielders to pinch in.
I expect to see Zarek Valentin to start on the right side that will offer a more complete game , while still being young, is able to play a good defensive game while being able to go up. He is also a centre back hence being aware of defensive responsibilities, something that Jeb Brovsky also provides but Jesse Marsch seems to lean towards Zarek. On the left, Tyson Wahl offers less instinctive offensive upside than Josh Gardner but will provide the support needed as well as defending.
I do expect the Montreal Impact to keep the game as closed as possible to prevent big spaces and gaps for FC Dallas.
Bonus: Tell us a player on Montreal that may not be a household name in MLS but could make a big impact on Saturday.
Felipe Martins. The Brazilian-Italian midfielder has a holding-defensive role but has skills to provide some play-making abilities to the game. Small but quick, he will be a pleasant surprise to many observers as he is also able to be a mean physical presence. He has not been playing his better soccer in the last 2 games but still makes a difference so imagine him on a good day. Give him space, underestimate him and he will burn you.
Now her questions for me
1. With no losses at home at FC Dallas Stadium, is FC Dallas a homer team thriving on its fans cheering and home comfort? or do you see a different way of playing by FC Dallas at home and away?
Under Schellas Hyndman historically, you’ve generally seen Dallas play pretty well on the road, but at home, they’ve been very tough to beat. Since the start of the 2010 season, Dallas has lost just 6 out of 36 home games so they have done a great job of protecting their home field.
I wouldn’t say Dallas plays too differently at home, but if they are suffering a bad result at home, you will see them really push to get the equalizer or game winner which we saw last week against New England. With the game being at home, and a tough stretch against Western Conference teams coming up after this one, I think most Dallas fans will be really hoping for three points against Montreal this weekend to keep the good home run alive.
2. With David Ferreira and Fabian Castillo, the team's Colombian Designated Players, do you feel that those 2 players make up the biggest danger for any team that will face FC Dallas ?
I wouldn’t say that simply because Ferreira hasn’t played for FCD in almost a year now and Fabian Castillo just finished his first 90 minute game for FC Dallas in the last few months on Thursday against New England. What Castillo does for Dallas is turn them from a good team into a very dangerous team. His speed out on the wings is tough to matchup with and he’s got an incredible ability to beat defenders 1v1 which you don’t see that often in MLS.David Ferreira is the final piece to the puzzle and we really won’t know how good FC Dallas 2012 is until he returns which is looking like it will happen in a couple months. Ferreira has been the most dangerous player for Dallas which is evidenced by his MVP trophy, but in the past year he hasn’t been seen so Dallas has adjusted to life without him. For FCD now, the dangermen are Brek Shea, someone all MLS fans are familiar with, and Blas Perez who is a Panamanian forward that is a huge, strong presence in the middle and has had a major hand in every Dallas goal this season.
3. Battle of the midfield: The Montreal Impact enjoy to have possession of the ball while still being able to counter attack if needed. How would you describe FC Dallas' midfield as a unit and its strengths and weaknesses?
The FC Dallas midfield is one that doesn’t do a great job of possessing the ball. Andrew Jacobson and Daniel Hernandez, the likely central midfield pairing, are guys who are talented at winning the ball and getting it on to the dangermen I just mentioned. With Ricardo Villar out this weekend, there’s almost no offensive talent in the center of the park so they’ll look to get the ball out on the wings to Brek Shea, Fabian Castillo and Carlos Rodriguez.