Oct 30, 2013, 8:08 PM EDT
Ahead of Thursday’s single elimination playoff between Houston and Montreal, here are the most-knows about the visiting Impact ahead of the 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):
- Marco Di Vaio’s special season
The Impact’s last time on the field turned into the hated double bummer; Les Bleus fell to Toronto while watching striker Marco Di Vaio fail to claim the Golden Boot, never mind his sparkling 20-goal season. The 37-year-old striker wandered into final weekend soccer level with Mike Magee for league leadership. Magee scored, Vancouver’s Camilo scored even more and, well … Di Vaio did not.
Still,, what a season. Remember, 20-goal campaigns remain rare in MLS, still a significant benchmark. There were just 10 previous instances through 17 MLS seasons.
- Alessandro Nesta is out
You could probably make some case that Marco Schallibaum’s team is better without the veteran Italian – although it would be something of a stretch.
Nesta’s foot speed just isn’t what it was previously during all those years at Lazio, Milan and with the Italian national team. (Truly, the man was one of the defensive giants of a land that appreciates defenders like it appreciates carefully crafted pasta.) So, he tends to get exposed when caught one-on-one against younger, faster types.
But again, it’s a case that looks like small noodles to me. Because Nesta’s positioning and anticipation is so good that he’s an expert at avoiding those situations. Plus, neither Houston striker, Will Bruin nor Giles Barnes, is particularly fast.
Besides, a guy with 78 caps for Italy and a World Cup winner’s medal (2006) … yeah, you want him on the field. Nesta is out with a calf injury. Young backup Wandrille Lefevre or possibly outside back Hassoun Camara will be the likely replacement at center back.
- Backing into the playoffs
Clearly, everyone around camp Les Bleus would feel better about things if the Impact had won last weekend at Toronto, claiming their spot with a winning authority rather than backing in because Chicago got clobbered at Red Bull Arena.
The Impact concluded their second MLS campaign with a 1-0 loss at Canadian rival Toronto.
“We were disappointed,” Hassoun Camara told MLSSoccer.com. “Everyone knows it was an important game for us and we wanted to show that we are a playoff team. It’s hard to deal with that.”
- Last time in Houston? Not that bad
Yes, the Impact’s recent skid included a 1-0 loss earlier this month at Houston. But this was far from a run-away, and the Impact improved considerably and even pressed Houston at times once Andrew Wenger came in for the final half hour.
Where Montreal lost the game was in midfield, where orange-clad Boniek Garcia, Warren Creavalle and Ricardo Clark were simply better than the visitors’ men in the middle third. Then again, Montreal was missing its main man in the center, Patrice Bernier.
So while the Impact’s 4-9-4 record away from Stade Saputo isn’t anything to shout about, they don’t have the very worst of memories of walking down that ramp at BBVA.
- Choices in the Impact midfield
There are lots of edges that point to Houston, so it seems important for Les Bleus manager Marco Schallibaum to get his lineup absolutely right. Health and fitness will probably dictate the back line choices, but the Swiss manager does have options in midfield.
Veterans Justin Mapp (who was having a great season prior to the club’s fall dip) and Davy Arnaud look set on the outside. Arnaud is from Texas (not far from Houston, in Nederland), so this contest is extra special to him.
The real choice will be at attacking midfielder, where the decision is pretty much down to Wenger or Felipe Martins. Martins is the more creative and skillful, but he hasn’t been great lately – one of the reasons Montreal was shut out in four of its last five matches. (Then again, no one in Impact blue has done well lately except perhaps for Di Vaio.)
Wenger is more physical, and while the current Dynamo version doesn’t pack the physical punch of past teams in orange, playoff games against Houston will always have a certain bump and grind about them.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Saints have no need to sell the France international, and hope that pricing him higher than Luke Shaw will deter the likes of Arsenal and Spurs.
Jul 26, 2014, 11:40 AM EDT
It’s no surprise that the forward would tip his side for the title — but is he wrong?
Jul 26, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
It’s not really sounding as though the Colombian is prepared to take a 50 percent wage cut in order to secure a move to the La Liga giants.
Jul 26, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT
Manchester United face Roma in Denver on Saturday. The match is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. local time — when temperatures will be high
Jul 26, 2014, 8:59 AM EDT
West Ham may be regretting their trip to Australia and New Zealand, while Newcastle are honoring fans’ memory with wins.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:06 AM EDT
Is the Chelsea manager gearing up for a season of back-and-forth with new United boss Louis van Gaal?
Jul 26, 2014, 7:13 AM EDT
The Brazilian will have a chance to prove himself once more, challenging Rob Green for the starting goalkeeper spot for QPR.
Jul 26, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Two goals in the first half hour allowed the Rapids to cruise at DSG Park.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:35 PM EDT
The 26-year-old will try to improve an attack that averaged fewer than one goal per game last season.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Gonzalez resumed full training on Friday with the hope of starting in Seattle.
Jul 25, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT
Roberto Martínez is ready to spend close to $35 million to secure the 21-year-old’s return.
Jul 25, 2014, 7:44 PM EDT
Medical with Gunners and fee agreement has Chambers on the verge of departing for North London.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
LCL injury could sideline former Southampton star for six weeks.
Jul 25, 2014, 6:04 PM EDT
23-year-old brings another ball-winner to the Dynamo midfield.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
One of Alex Ferguson’s most notorious transfers has found a new home with Benfica.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Five years of development by the Blues ends with the 23-year-old’s departure.
Jul 25, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT
From Sanchez and Luiz to Suarez and Sidwell, a breakdown of the top names to have come and gone from the Premier League.
Jul 25, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT
If anyone spots Will.I.Am with Willian, let us know.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
Things are looking dicey at Southampton, where yet another player is set to skip town.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:51 PM EDT
A one-year move and mutual respect between the coach and player could make this a relatively-shrewd move for the Blues.
- Everton willing to set club transfer record to bring Lukaku back 3
- Arsenal on the verge of signing Calum Chambers from Southampton 1
- Knee injury will keep Lallana out of Liverpool’s Premier League opener 0
- A quick guide to who’s come and gone from Premier League teams 2
- Didier Drogba has officially rejoined Jose Mourinho at Chelsea 4
- FIFA says World Cup will stay in Russia, “can achieve positive change” 9