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Previewing the Columbus Crew at Montreal Impact with Sofiane Benzaza of Mount Royal Soccer

In another Eastern Conference battle, the Crew travel to Montreal to face the Impact. Here is a preview of the two teams from people familiar with the teams.

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The Columbus Crew have been on a nice run, going 4-1-1 over their last six games. They have moved up to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings over that stretch and are in position for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

The Montreal Impact, this Saturday's opposition enters the match with one win since the beginning of July. They currently hold the worst record in MLS, but in this league you never know who can get the win.

Sofiane Benzaza of SB Nation's Mount Royal Soccer and I exchanged questions to give readers an inside perspective on the opposition.

Questions for Mount Royal Soccer

Massive Report: For Crew fans who haven't had a chance to see much on the Impact this season, give a breakdown of the year. What has changed from a team that made the playoffs a year ago?

Mount Royal Soccer: Basically, the Montreal Impact went from a playoff contending team to one of the worst clubs in 2014. The free-fall of 2013, that saw them go from top of the Eastern Conference to barely making it to 5th, seemed to have continued this season.

It would not be a typical Montreal season if there wasn't any coaching changes. Frank Klopas took over Marco Schallibaum and little changes were made during the off-season as per player procurement.

Conclusion: the club continued its free-fall and is already out of the MLS playoffs. Some early trades in the season (Wenger for McInerney) could have saved the club but it was mostly a mirage to what was a squad that needed help in quantity and quality.

During the summer months, the club has parted ways with Sporting Director, Nick de Santis, giving carte blanche to Frank Klopas with 2 objectives: get ready for the 2015 season and go to the CCL quarter-finals.

MR: There appears to be a lot of fire power in the attack for Montreal with Marco Di Viao and Jack McInerney up top and Andres Romero behind them, yet only 25 goals scored on the season. What has been the issue on that side of the ball and does a player like Ignacio Piatti bring on the offensive end?

MRS: Ignacio Piatti will be bring a lot as per scoring opportunities, goals and most importantly offensive flair to feed passes to the Impact strikers. But the aforementioned trio of players have not clicked enough as a unit to make something happen on a larger scale. Di Vaio was not going to score 20 goals again but his influence on the game has not been up to par. McInerney was getting hot right before the World Cup break but his game went down a level, especially since Klopas went for a one-striker formation, taking away playing time.

Andres Romero has been amazing this season and is a strong candidate for the 2014 MLS comeback player of the year. But his efforts will always pale in comparison to the collective mediocrity of a team that just wants the MLS season to be over with.

MR: The Impact currently sit 13 points back of the final playoff spot. With 10 more games to play, do the supporters remain hopeful their team can make a late push and sneak into the tournament?

MRS: The hope to eventually hope to maybe be part of a playoff run has left the building a long time ago. Playoff aspirations are close to none though the team will play its best football with Frank Klopas leading the charge. The only viable objective is the CONCACAF Champions League and the New York Red Bulls is the giant that the Impact needs to slay.

The season would be "salvaged" if the club can make it to the CCL quarter-finals, a reminder of what gave so much success to the club back in 2009, when it was a small NASL club facing Mexican juggernaut, Santos Laguna.

Questions for Massive Report

Mount Royal Soccer: It seems that the Columbus Crew has been through an overhaul at all levels from the organizational side of things down to the pitch. Is that the key to this year's current success?

Massive Report: Certainly. With last season's purchase of the team by Anthony Precourt and the Precourt Sports Venture, there was a different feel about this organization. Finally they have an owner who is dedicated to the team and he has continued to demonstrate that with his changes in the front office as well as renovating the locker rooms at the stadium and practice facility and upgrades around Columbus Crew Stadium.

With that brought the hiring of Gregg Berhalter as sporting director and head coach. Berhalter brought a style of play he thought would best fit this team and a desire to stick with that style. He added players - Michael Parkhurst, Steve Clark, Hector Jimenez, Giancarlo Gonzalez - who he felt would fit his system. After early success this season, a 3-0 start, Columbus came back to reality and struggled to get wins, but recently the Crew have started to really grasp the system and it has yielded some great results recently.

This all came from the top down.

MRS; Will the the loss of Giancarlo Gonzalez be a turning point for the club's playoff aspirations and in the long-term?

MR: Berhalter doesn't seem to think so. When they made the announcement before last week's game with the Houston Dynamo, the head coach immediately pointed to MLS veteran Tyson Wahl, who played in the shutout win. The Crew have other options in the center of the defense as well, but none of them are one of the World Cup's best defenders.

I think they will be alright without Gonzalez, but will see a fall off in that position. He and Parkhurst had good chemistry together and really understood how to play Berhalter's game. With that said, the Black and Gold did play without him during the World Cup and only conceded nine goals in seven games.

MRS: I think that Federico Higuain is one of the best players in this league and one of the most underrated DP out there. Prove me wrong.

MR: This simply can't be done. There's plenty more where that came from.

MRS: What are the realistic objectives for the Crew as per MLS? Make the playoffs and make a run for it? OR is there a bigger long-term plan that is perceivable on the pitch?

MR: For this year? The team wants to do as well as possible, obviously. The players and coaches have discussed making a push this year.

Realistically, Berhalter came to town with a three year plan to build this team in his image. I personally believe that is what sold Precourt on his pitch. He wants to build this team and that takes time. I think the club would be happy with a playoff appearance, as you never know what happens once you're in, but they know this is a process and any success in year one is a bonus.