The Union will be north of the border this evening as they face the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo (7:30PM/The Comcast Network). The two teams met just three weeks ago at PPL Park. Union captain Carlos Valdes scored a stoppage time winner to propel the U to a 2-1 win.
The Impact are fresh off of a 3-1 home win over New York Red Bulls. The game marked a couple of firsts for the expansion Impact. Former AC Milan man and World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta made his MLS debut. Marco Di Vaio, the Impact's first designated player signing, opened his MLS account against NYRB.
Di Vaio, who made several dangerous runs against the Union when the teams faced off at PPL Park in July, will not play. He had to return to Italy as part of the ongoing match-fixing scandal...
Nesta was one of three changes along Impact manager Jesse Marsch's back four against NYRB. Nelson Rivas and Jeb Brovsky joined Nesta along Montreal's shuffled back line. Rivas and Brovsky replaced former Union player Shavar Thomas and Lancaster native Zarek Valentin.
The Impact sit five points ahead of the eighth place Union in the MLS table. However, Montreal has played five more games than Philadelphia. In fact, the Union, along with Columbus, have played the fewest games of any Eastern Conference team (19). Amazingly, considering all of the drama surrounding the Union at the start of the season the playoffs remain a possibility.
One player who could bolster their playoff chances is Bakary Soumare, who may make his Union debut tonight. Soumare, who is listed as probable on the MLS injury report, is not a given to start ahead of Amobi Okugo along the backline. Okugo has been fantastic alongside Carlos Valdes in the middle of the Union defense. I don't know how interim manager John Hackworth can take Okugo off the field, but Soumare was not signed to sit on the bench.
Granted, Soumare is coming off of a knee injury and is not match fit, so Hackworth can slowly ease him into the lineup. He'll have an interesting decision to make once Soumare is fully fit. What would I do? I wouldn't mind seeing Okugo shift back to his more natural central midfield role. Between Brian Carroll, Carlos Gomez, Michael Lahoud and Okugo you've got options, but I don't know how you can sit Okugo.
One player who perhaps should return to the bench is Antoine Hoppenot. I don't say that as a knock against Hoppenot, who has been a revelation since Hackworth took over, I just think the Union tend to play too direct when he's in the lineup. At this point in his career I prefer him as a 60th minute substitution who can just run at people for 30 minutes.
Regardless of who starts the Union need to do a better job away from home. They are just 2-6-1 on the road this season with a -6 goal differential. If they hope to make a push for the playoffs they'll need to start earning results on the road.
I see them earning a point tonight with a 1-1 draw.