All of a sudden, the 2020 Major League Soccer season is waining and Columbus Crew has loosened its grip on the Supporters’ Shield trophy. The Black & Gold’s advantage over the rest of the league has disappeared and their second-most recent opponent, Toronto FC, has made a statement in an effort for a late bid to seal the league’s top spot.
With only three points taken from the previous three matches and injuries seemingly piling up, the Crew looks to keep its focus on the present. Next up on the schedule: the Montreal Impact.
What can the Black & Gold expect in their eighth home match of 2020 when the Impact comes to town?
Montreal Impact at a glance
Standing: 10th place in the Eastern Conference
Goal leader: Romell Quioto (5)
Assist leader: Saphir Taïder (5)
Player to watch
The 28-year-old Algerian central midfielder, who has 38 career caps for his country, is the undoubted star of a relatively nameless MLS side. Montreal’s Designated Player has four goals this season and 20 total goals to his name in 76 career appearances for the Impact since joining from Italian Serie A side Bologna in 2018.
Best utilized in the attack, Taider is a 5-foot-11 midfielder that uses his offensive prowess and vision to create chances for others by playing excellent through balls. His knack for long passes is crucial in a side that attempts the fourth most long balls per game in MLS (65). With Montreal sitting in 10th in the Eastern Conference and on the verge of sneaking into an MLS Cup playoff spot, Taider has a big say in how far the Impact can ultimately go in 2020.
How they play
After a disappointing finish in 2019, first-year head coach and former French international Thierry Henry has Montreal on an upward trajectory as far as having his side in the mix for a playoff spot in 2020. It’s been an experiment, to say the least, for Henry as he has yet to find a definitive formation of success for the Impact. The former Arsenal, Barcelona and New York Red Bull player has opted for diversity in his side, as he’s fielded five different formations in his debut season as an MLS coach.
Because the Impact has conceded the most goals in the conference with 29 on the season, Henry has recently settled on extra help at the back while deploying a 5-3-2 look. Either Henry decides on a fourth straight game with the formation to try and negate the counter-attacking power of the Crew or shakes it up and plays it safe with a back three in a 3-4-2-1 to allow Columbus to play on the front foot, which many teams have opted to do this season when facing the Black & Gold.
If the 5-3-2 is how Henry decides to field his side come Wednesday, he’s going to have to do a better job as far as discipline goes. Montreal has a league-high four red cards on the season and with the extra lifelines, that the midfield three possesses acting as a screen in front of the defenders, Caleb Porter’s team will need to play with a little more sharpness, especially without the team’s main playmaker, Lucas Zelarayan, leading the charge for the Black & Gold.
How the Crew win
Columbus comes into its 16th match of the season as overwhelming favorites sitting at -222 to come away with all three points. The Black & Gold are the best team playing at home in 2020 with a record of 7-0-0. Henry should know the task at hand despite coming up against a Crew side that is hampered with injuries to star players. Nothing’s ever given in MLS and while three points may seem like a forgone conclusion for the Black & Gold, it’s not.
It’s obvious the hit the team takes when not only Zelarayan is missing, but more importantly Darlington Nagbe. He’s the glue that brings the entire team together and playing like a potential MLS Cup champion. Without Eloy Room in goal and Andrew Tarbell in net for the Black & Gold, questions will be asked of the defense that boasts a league-high nine clean sheets.
But there’s one player that’s made his mark in crucial moments and will likely have the biggest say in the Black & Gold coming out on top Wednesday. For the Crew, that’s Pedro Santos. With four goals and six assists on the year, Santos rediscovered his best play in 2020 and slots into Zelarayan’s usual No. 10 central attacking midfield position with ease. He’ll be the one influencing the Columbus attack and will be key in linking up a team that makes its money attacking from wide positions.
If Columbus can get a vintage 2020 performance from its Portuguese maestro, then three more points will be kept at MAPFRE Stadium and another step closer to a major trophy this yer will be taken.