When the Montreal Impact come to the nation's capital on Thursday, Oct. 27, they will face a Black-and-Red attack that has exploded since the All-Star break. With a goal differential of +9 over the final 15 games and 35 goals scored in that span, as well as a nine-match streak of at least two goals scored, Ben Olsen's side are riding high headed into their third consecutive postseason appearance. Montreal, meanwhile, enter the Knockout Round in a bit of a state of flux and haven't won since Oct. 1. Ahead of United's first-ever postseason game against the Impact, take a look at some of the storylines around this Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoff matchup.
Goal Droughts Few and Far Between
United's offensive firepower in the second half of the season was well-documented. Since the arrival of Patrick Mullins and Lloyd Sam, the Black-and-Red have averaged almost 2.5 goals per game. There have only been two matches since the All-Star break in which United failed to score multiple goals, with the opponent being the same both times: Montreal. Once in Canada and once in D.C., Mauro Biello's men held United to only one goal, and are the only team to achieve the feat since July 30. However, United had only just begun playing with their newly-acquired forward and it could be said the team was still finding their rhythm. In the second meeting, United had to deal with an extremely short turnaround after playing the Red Bulls in a lightning-delayed match only three days prior. After all, Olsen's side went on to score two goals in each of their next three matches after the July 31 match and scored six in the match following their second meeting with the Impact. Whether the stars point to another low-scoring defensive battle or a high-octane shootout remains to be seen.
Both teams play through their respective Argentine playmakers, with Ignacio Piatti cutting inside from the left wing recently and Luciano Acosta pulling the strings in an advanced midfield role. The two South Americans match up similarly (both average around 32 passes per 90 minutes and rarely play it long (only 10 percent of Piatti's passes and 11 for Acosta), and while Piatti is more of a goal threat than Acosta, United's young midfielder dazzled with his first career MLS goal and is currently up for AT&T Goal of the Year. Acosta's growth in his first MLS season has been noticed; he was named number 14 on the league's best 24 under 24. Piatti's importance will depend on his teammate Didier Drogba; if the Ivorian doesn't play, the Argentine will play less as distributor and more as a goalscorer. Acosta, on the other hand, will continue to influence in the center of the field, dictating the tempo, taking players on and tracking back to regain possession.
The last time Montreal traveled to D.C., Drogba was sent packing in the second half, ejected for his knee in the back of Marcelo. The Impact have had a penchant for yellow cards this season; they rank third in the league in total accumulation. Luckily for them, all cards get reset heading into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
United head into the Knockout Round with confidence: "I think the last two years we’ve limped into the playoffs, but we have a different swagger and stride about us this year," Olsen said. "We need to make sure on Thursday, we’re at our best."