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The Montreal Impact are that cute little creature that looks utterly non-threatening but is capable of burrowing in through your ear and eating your brain.
They've lost one more game than they've won, their goal differential is an adorably mediocre +3, they've somehow forced 37-year-old striker Eduardo Sebrango into twenty-three games this year, their best player is renowned for his fitness problems and says things like "My job is to score goals. It's not to look nice on the field or be pretty. I'm not playing soccer to be a model." Gerba, in defiance of Jethro Tull, not only wants to be a fat man but has got the patience to ignore all that. So far, the Impact have not beaten the Whitecaps this season in any competition: something like a billion draws in the league and the Voyageurs Cup, and a 2-1 Whitecaps victory at Stade Saputo on a last-ditch goal from Luca Bellisomo.
Isn't that just typical NASL, eh? This should be a walk-over at home. Except, oh, the Impact's fat scorer has nine goals in eleven games after returning from his soccer exile to turn into the NASL's Gerd Muller. That 37-year-old striker I was talking about would be tied for Vancouver's scoring lead. Montreal has won four of their last five, recently clinched a playoff berth, are the defending North American second division champions and have a pretty good chance of being our first-round playoff opponent. Meanwhile, Vancouver hasn't won at home in its last four tries, draws so often their games could hang in the Louvre, is winless in their last four at home, can't score to save their lives, just blew a game to Minnesota, and continues to rotate players in and out of the lineup alarmingly.
This could be bloody. This could be awful bloody.
It's difficult to overstate how terrified I am of Gerba. I don't think I can get used to the concept of cheering for the team playing against Ali: he's always been my goal-poaching boy for the Canadian national team and now I have to try and cope with the likes of Greg Janicki and Luca Bellisomo trying to tame that charging rhinoceros in his fourth go-round with the Impact who has more goals than I have socks. I spend all this time and all those articles defending Gerba and he goes off doing his dirty work for a team we have to try and beat! That's gratitude.
Plus, I do really like Ali. He's forthright and honest and he's made his bones with skill, guile, and power rather than running a million miles a night. It's funny, people always complain that soccer-wise Canada has placed too much emphasis on developing athletes rather than skilled players, and then a guy comes around who is the very paragon of skill over athletics and half the country's soccer community treats him like a leper. Though the forthrightness probably isn't helping him there: too many of our fans like our athletes to talk about giving a hundred and ten percent and playing a good game rather than how Preki is a massive dick.
I really like the guy, though. If (when) he scores on Vancouver, I hope I don't get caught cheering by accident.
The Impact have some dangerous assets apart from Gerba, of course. Tony Donatelli is their second-leading scorer and his seven goals put anyone on the Whitecaps to shame. Rocco Placentino, their captain, is a ball distributor to rival Martin Nash only with superior athleticism, but for my money Montreal's real creative force is Leonardo di Lorenzo, the 29-year-old Argentine who has been with the Impact seemingly forever and who combines real pace and fitness with the ability to, at times, make the ball do whatever he wants. The veteran leads the Impact's table with six assists, double that of his next nearest rival, and with all that offensive firepower even the Whitecaps will have a job to do closing them all down.
Montreal's poor record only hides their very real skill. There are a few reasons the Impact have done relatively poorly: bad coaching (ask a Montreal fan about Marc dos Santos sometime), bad luck, and an inability to spread the scoring beyond Donatelli until Gerba came along. Moreover, the Montreal midfield has benefited heavily in the last dozen matches with the return of Antonio Ribeiro, a long-time Impact star who spent the 2009 season with the San Jose Earthquakes but failed to make the grade for 2010. Ribeiro already has two goals and two assists this year and is yet another head on the ferocious Montreal offensive hydra.
Not only is this going to be a tough one, this is going to be such a tough one that for once I might be pleased with a home draw.
News and Notes:
- Davide Chiumiento is expected to make his Whitecaps first team debut tonight. He only went forty-five minutes for the Reserves earlier this week and probably isn't quite in game shape yet; still, it'll be brilliant to get a look at the guy.
- The injured list is pretty long for both teams. Mouloud Akloul and Nelson Akwari remain out for the Whitecaps and joining them is right back Wes Knight, who has a strained back. Ethan Gage draws in for Knight and Luca Bellisomo remains in for Akwari.
- Meanwhile, Montreal will be missing defender Simon Gatti and midfielders Pierre-Rudoph Mayard and and Filipe Soares, although none of them get major minutes for the Impact.
- Unfortunately for us fans looking forward to Wesley Charles's homecoming, the hulking St. Vincentian hasn't played more than five minutes for the Impact since August 11 against Crystal Palace Baltimore and hasn't left the bench at all in his last two matches. We may all want some Phillips Bakery, but in Charles's case the bread just isn't that fresh anymore.
- Montreal is going to Major League Soccer for the 2012 season. They probably would be going up in 2011, taking our spot, if it weren't for the fact that Gamblin' Joey Saputo decided to play hardball with Don Garber and company on the franchise fee. I just thought I'd remind any Montreal fans reading about that, with a smug smile on my face.
- With this in mind, the Vancouver Southsiders titling their fundraising tailgate "So Long Surrender Monkeys" is a touch premature, but they will be selling grilled goods and 2011 membership kits as ever in the southeast parking lot of Swangard Stadium.