Playing at Montreal’s Stade Saputo is never easy. The Fire was the Montreal Impact’s first opponent there on March 17, 2012, and Major League Soccer’s newest franchise drew a record 58,912 fans for its first home match.
It ended in a 1-1 draw, and the Fire was a 3-1 winner in the Sept. 15 rematch at Toyota Park while Jesse Marsch, the former Fire midfielder, was still the Montreal coach.
Marsch and the Impact parted ways after last season, and Montreal is off to a 4-1-1 start under his successor, Marco Schallibaum. When the Fire returns to Montreal on Saturday, however, the timing might be in the visitors’ favor. The emotion from last year’s franchise debut won’t be evident and the Impact is in the throes of a killer stretch of games.
On Wednesday the Impact visited Toronto FC and lost 2-0 in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship. The second leg of that series is next Wednesday in Montreal, so the Fire visit is sandwiched in between two national championship matches for the host team.
Not only that, but Wednesday’s trip to Toronto FC started a six-game stretch for the Impact that will be completed in just 18 days. Schallibaum will do his best to utilize most of his roster, and he had three Canadians in his first eleven for the first time for Wednesday’s loss in Toronto. Still, he must remain careful about how he disburses playing time.
Fire coach Frank Klopas has his own roster issues. He made some difficult choices last Saturday, when leading scorer Daniel Paladini and top goal-scorer Maicon Santos weren’t in the starting line for a home match against the Columbus Crew. Offensively challenged all season, the Fire got away with a 1-0 win in that match to improve its record to 2-4-1.
Now Klopas faces the same difficult choices again in addition to determining a new starter at right back. Wells Thompson, the converted midfielder who has manned that position most of the time since Steven Kinney suffered a quadricep injury two games into the season, was handed a one-game suspension on Thursday by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for a challenge on Columbus midfielder Agustin Viana in the last game. Thompson was also assessed an undisclosed fine, and Kinney is still on the injured list so Klopas will have to do some scrambling on his back line. One option is bringing in another converted midfielder, veteran Mike Videira, who has recovered from a concussion. Captain Logan Pause could also drop back from the midfield to play there.
As for the other lineup options, Klopas didn’t bring in Santos until the 78th minute against Columbus and Paladini didn’t get into the match until the 87th minute. Neither scored, as Jeff Larentowicz’ header in the 83rd minute produced the game’s lone goal.
Klopas stuck with Sherjill MacDonald as his starter up top ahead of Santos, who scored twice in the Fire’s only other win – 3-1 over New York on April 7. Paladini, with a goal and three assists, had figured in all the Fire goals in the two matches preceding Columbus’ visit. Patrick Nyarko played well in his place against the Crew and Joel Lindpere was effective on the other side of the midfield.
"I wanted to get Patrick in there because of his pace and his ability to stretch the field,’’ said Klopas. "Danny has played well. He’s a guy that, when he gets in, he helps us with possession. He comes inside more.…You have to make some decisions, and they’re not easy.’’
MacDonald, the Dutch striker who has Designated Player status, still hasn’t scored a goal or played a full match this season.
"His fitness level is improving,’’ said Klopas. "He was aggressive and made good runs….He had a good game, regardless if he scored or not. He helped the team.’’
MacDonald wasn’t happy about being replaced by Santos and was slow leaving the field. That led to interaction on the pitch with Pause.
"At that time we were pushing, and trying to win the game,’’ said Pause. "I wanted to speed up because every second counts. I understand the frustrations with being subbed off. It’s happened to me countless times.’’
Montreal might be a tonic for MacDonald’s frustrations. He scored one of his four goals last season against the Impact. Also scoring in that win in Bridgeview was Brazilian midfielder Alex. He’s been slowed this season by a contusion on his right ankle but returned to the game roster against Columbus and might factor into Klopas’ decisions on Saturday.
The big news at Fire training this week didn’t affect Saturday’s match. Midfielder Victor Pineda was called up to the U.S. Under-20 team again and will train with that group through Monday in California. The U.S. U-20s are preparing for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, the first match of which is against Spain on June 21.
Pineda, the Fire’s first homegrown player, hasn’t appeared in an MLS match yet but the Bolingbrook product was a factor in international play with his three goals and one assist in six appearances for the U.S. U-20s in 2012. His progress was slowed by meniscus surgery last Nov. 15.
Montreal has some Fire connections. Impact midfielder Justin Mapp enjoyed his best seasons with the Fire. During seven seasons in Chicago he contributed to two U.S. Open Cup championships, was an MLS All-Star in 2005 and on the league’s Best XI in 2006. Two other Impact players, goalkeeper Evan Bush and midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic, were on the Fire’s Premier Development League team that went 14-2-0 and ruled the Great Lakes Division in 2006.
Though the Fire is on the road there will be professional soccer in Chicago this weekend. The Chicago Red Stars, 0-1-1 in the new National Women’s Soccer League, will host the Portland Thorn (1-0-1) in Lisle on Saturday night.