United return to RFK to host the Montreal Impact on Saturday, May 6 at 6 PM following a three-match road trip in which the Black-and-Red finished strong, drawing 2-2 in New England and soundly defeating Atlanta United 3-1 last weekend. While this weekend's match is about earning back-to-back wins and three points at home, it’s also about avenging last year’s frustrating Audi MLS Cup Playoff loss to the Impact and building momentum following the impressive road victory in Atlanta.
“[Montreal] ended our season, which is obviously something we haven’t forgotten about," midfielder Lloyd Sam said following United's win last weekend. "We’re the home team, so we want to dictate the game. We want to impose our will on them—it’s going to be about our game plan.”
Now, as the Impact sit in tenth in the East and average less than a point a game, the Black-and-Red will look to take advantage and create further separation from last year’s season-enders. With 14 conceded goals (tied for the most in the Eastern Conference) and no shutouts, the Montreal back line has proved vulnerable to pressure and the counterattack, especially with defenders Laurent Ciman and Hassoun Camara relying more on size than speed. United’s offense, which has scored multiple goals in four matches this season, has the ability to carve through the gut of opposing defenses, as Luciano Acosta demonstrated at Bobby Dodd Stadium last weekend.
The Argentine put in one of his best performances of the year, scoring a goal and providing the assist for Sébastien Le Toux, while Bill Hamid had a wildly impressive day in the net. The Black-and-Red goalkeeper denied Atlanta repeatedly, and will need to be strong between the posts again against Montreal.
Le Toux scored his second goal in as many matches last weekend, while Lamar Neagle, Ian Harkes, and Sam also put in significant work in the midfield with Acosta, helping stretch Atlanta's back line and relieve pressure on the counterattack. With five goals in the last two matches, the Black-and-Red attack is showing promising signs of reigniting the explosive offense that netted 16 goals in the last six matches of 2016.
“I don’t know if we’ve found that same form yet, but it’s nice that goals are going in," Sam said of United regaining their offensive prowess. "I feel like we could find that form again in these next three home games."
For Montreal, Argentine Ignacio Piatti (three goals, one assist) and Canadian Patrice Bernier (four assists) have served as the primary weapons. However, young players Anthony Jackson-Hamel and Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, 23 and 18, respectively, have been gaining in confidence and look dangerous on the ball and in the penalty area. The entire United back line will need to be wary of the various pieces to Montreal’s attack, whether it’s Piatti’s crafty dribbling ability, Tabla’s pace, or Bernier’s passing. The Black-and-Red will face a Montreal side with less attacking depth than usual, though, as forward Matteo Mancosu (two goals) has been ruled out 6-8 weeks with a thigh injury.
Saturday’s three points are huge for both sides as United push to piece together a win streak while at home and Montreal search to regain the form that led them to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. The clubs will meet again on July 1 in Montreal for United’s second match in a brutal four-match road trip.