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

The Crew and the Impact meet for the final time this season. Even though they know each other fairly well, Sofiane and I felt we'd share information to catch the fans up on what has gone on with either team.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew and the Montreal Impact clash yet again on Saturday night in another Eastern Conference battle. For the Black and Gold, it is an opportunity to continue to move up the Eastern Conference ladder after several good performances since the middle of July. Unfortunately, their last poor game was against the Impact, a 2-0 road loss, but they have responded with two wins and a tie since that defeat.

Despite a win last week and qualifying for the quarter finals of the CONCACAF Champions League this week, the Impact have not had a good MLS season. With five games remaining, Montreal sit 16 points behind Columbus, who currently hold the last spot for the playoffs, meaning they are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Frank Klopas and his coaching staff determined a while back they would focus on the Champions League over the MLS, resting players in the process.

The Impact come in to Crew Stadium, looking to play spoiler. I turned ot Sofiane to learn more about Montreal ahead of the game.

Questions for Mount Royal Soccer

Massive Report: Despite sitting at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference, the Impact have qualified for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League and are undefeated in that competition. What difference have allowed the club to be successful outside of league play? Has the strategy of saving players for Champions League play hurt the team in MLS?

Mount Royal SoccerThe group was easy, the schedule favoured the club and Ignacio Piatti came at the right time. Like Patrice Bernier always said, the league is one reality and the tournament is another. The club was able to compartmentalize its efforts to really push away all the negatives happening in MLS and go all in during the CCL. There was not much saving for the club as the objective was to make the CCL quarter-finals and it became the only objective quickly after the FIFA World Cup.

MR: When these teams last met, it was Ignacio Piatti with both the goals in the Impact's 2-0 win. How has the relatively new signing fit in with the team since that point? Does he appear to be the special player he looked against the Crew in the end of August?

MRS: The Piatti effect has been amazing and the Impact has in its midst one of the most dangerous offensive players of this league. Yes he has not played enough games to give him the crown but his impact on the pitch has been remarkable. He fits a gap that the club has had since joining MLS: a true offensive midfielder. Call him a #10, call him whatever you want but make sure to shout his name when he scores : Nachoooooo!!!!

MR: Dilly Duka was drafted by Columbus and played for the Black and Gold for his first three seasons, but could never get his career off the ground. It seems he has really found a spot in the Impact's lineup and is beginning to produce like he was expected. How has Duka developed as a player and what have you seen for him over the course of his time in Montreal?

MRS: Whether he was with the Crew or the Fire, I was never sure what Duka's role is: #10, support striker, winger. But we all knew that he is an offensive midfielder with a scoring touch and moves very swiftly with the ball at his feet, Zidanesque might I say? I will not go that far but he has this slow-mo style in the way he handles the ball that hypnotizes me at times.

He was shy at the beginning like the new kid on the block trying to find his locker, get the right shoes and get used to his new mates. What helped the most was Frank Klopas' total confidence in him.

Questions for Massive Report

Mount Royal Soccer: Montreal has not totally been bad in the last few games. Though Piatti is not likely to start or play vs the Crew, the Crew needs to push up the standings with a big win at home. How is the team's current form?

Massive Report: Since the middle of July, the Black and Gold are 6-2-2. They've had big home wins over the LA Galaxy, the Houston Dynamo, and Chivas USA, as well as a road win over the New England Revolution and a tie at the Dynamo after trailing 2-0 at halftime.

The team seems to be trending in the right direction as we approach crunch time in the regular season. Of course, there have been games mixed in, like the loss to the Impact, where they aren't able to find the net or something just doesn't go right. The coaches and players are confident with how things have gone, they just need to keep the train on the tracks in order to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

MRS: The Crew recently signed Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz but it does not seem that he will be playing this season. Is the staff confident in the current back four to take care of business?

MR; There's a few things on this. There is no reason to believe Pogatetz won't play at some point this year. There was the MLS article with the headline stating he likely wouldn't, but the article said nothing about it and Berhalter called out the writer, who quickly defended himself as he does not write his own headlines.

Now that that's cleared up, here are the issues with Pogatetz. The man nicknamed Mad Dog came in on a free transfer, so he was not with a club previously. Although he kept himself in good shape, soccer game shape is different. Berhalter said he was able to do everything in training after just a couple of days, but they have really pushed him with fitness drills to get him game ready. Most people who cover the team, myself included, believed Pogatetz would make the game day 18-man roster last week, but he did not. It would not be surprising to see him on the bench this week.

To answer your last question, I do think Berhalter and the staff are happy with the current back line. After the poor first half in Houston, Berhalter pulled Eric Gehrig in favor of Hecto Jimenez. He said in the lead up to last week's New England contest that there may be changes, but there were none. On Thursday, Berhalter stated that Tyson Wahl had done really well taking over for Giancarlo Gonzalez and partnering Michael Parkhurst in the center of defense. They are saying all the right things about the defensive unit and the data is there to back it up with three shutouts in the last six games.

MRS: There isn't a real bonafide top striker though Higuain is a star but more as a playmaker. What is the Crew's trademark as per the way it score goals? Is the Impact in trouble or does it suit Klopas' team?

MR: Columbus fans have been clamoring all year for a real goal scorer to play up top. The Crew have run through Dominic Oduro, Jairo Arrieta, rookie Adam Bedell, and second-year pro Aaron Schoenfeld while even going with no striker and playing Higuain as a false nine. All this and the Black and Gold are still on pace to score more goals than they have since the MLS Cup winning year of 2008.

What has occurred recently is the inclusion of the outside midfielders in the scoring department. Of their top four goal scorers, three of them normally play on the outside and the other one is Higuain. The "wingers" have combined for 21 of the Crew's 41 goals this season, which is a pretty high rate considering it took a while to get them going.

I don't know if this plays into any team's hand, as their are dangerous players up the middle and on either side, but Montreal shut down this attack at home. In Columbus' last match, the Revolution conceded chances, but the only goal came from an Higuain free kick (although Justin Meram did earn a penalty kick). It will be interesting to see how either side plays it on Saturday night.

Since the middle of July, the Black and Gold are 6-2-2. They've had big home wins over the LA Galaxy, the Houston Dynamo, and Chivas USA, as well as a road win over the New England Revolution and a tie at the Dynamo after trailing 2-0 at halftime.

The team seems to be trending in the right direction as we approach crunch time in the regular season. Of course, there have been games mixed in, like the loss to the Impact, where they aren't able to find the net or something just doesn't go right. The coaches and players are confident with how things have gone, they just need to keep the train on the tracks in order to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.