VANCOUVER - After a short break during the group stages of the World Cup, the Major League Soccer season gets back underway on Wednesday night with an all-Canadian clash at BC Place as Vancouver Whitecaps host Montreal Impact (live on TSN and TSN 690 at 9:30pm et/6:30pm pt).
The Whitecaps will look to pick up where they left off and cement a place in the Western Conference playoff places, while Montreal will be hoping for a much different story after an extremely disappointing start to the MLS season. Winning the Canadian Championship was the bright spot so far this year for an Impact team that sits bottom of the Eastern Conference.
The Whitecaps enter the match unbeaten in their last seven matches (Won 3, Tied 4) while the Impact have won just twice all season and have only picked up two points from their previous six matches on the road.
Vancouver needed a late penalty from Pedro Morales to rescue a point at Philadelphia in their last match, despite leading the game 2-0 at PPL Park. The Whitecaps have been having no trouble scoring goals, but will need to tighten up defensively if they are to build on their excellent start to the year. The Caps haven't lost in MLS since April 12 when they were beaten 1-0 by LA Galaxy in California. Vancouver are unbeaten against Eastern Conference opposition so far this season.
After beating Toronto FC to be crowned Canadian champions, and winning at home to high flying New England, Montreal's revival came to a crashing halt with a 4-2 loss at home to DC United two weeks ago.
Things have improved for the Impact since they started the season by taking just three points from a possible 21 through their first seven matches, but they will need to be consistently strong between now and the end of the year if they are to have any chance of getting into the playoff race. The Impact are currently eight points outside the playoff places.
With only 13 goals in 13 matches, the Impact are the lowest scoring team in MLS, but the signing of Jack McInerney has proved to be an excellent addition.
The Big Question:
Will Montreal's defence be able to cope with Vancouver's speedsters? The Whitecaps have caused plenty of problems for their opponents this year with lots of attacking options, and Chilean midfielder Pedro Morales proving to be the perfect set-up man.
Striker Erik Hurtado has been leading the way in recent games with five goals in his last five matches in all competitions. Hurtado has shown the ability to cause defenders all kinds of problems with his strength and speed, and the Whitecaps can also call upon the pace of Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks.
In their last match before the break, Montreal defended poorly and conceded four goals at home to DC United, however, in their previous game, they managed to keep a clean sheet against a strong New England team.
If the Impact defence isn't switched on from minute one, the Whitecaps young guns could take advantage. Montreal coach Frank Klopas has the chance to make changes in defence if he chooses, with the recent additions of Futty Danso from Portland, and former Sporting KC man Mechack Jerome.
There are a few decisions for Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson to make with regards to his starting lineup. Captain Jay DeMerit came off injured in the tie at Philadelphia and is sidelined for six weeks. Robinson will choose from Andy O'Brien, Carlyle Mitchell, Johnny Leveron and Christian Dean to fill the two central defensive places.
At the other end of the pitch, it is possible the Caps could start with Mattocks and Manneh supporting Hurtado. Robinson has said he would love to see the three players start together at some stage and it is possible that this could be the occasion to try it. If not, one of the Whitecaps two Uruguayan's, Sebastien Fernandez or Nicolas Mezquida, could get the start.
With Marco Di Vaio and Justin Mapp expected to miss the match through injury, the Impact will be relying on McInerney and Andres Romero to provide a goal scoring edge. Both players have been in good form of late. McInerney has four goals in eight MLS appearances since joining the Impact from Philadelphia, and Romero had scored in his last three MLS matches.
The most interesting decision for Montreal will be who Klopas decides to play in defence, and whether or not either Danso or Jerome will be handed an Impact debut. In midfield, Klopas could give a debut to 30-year-old Spaniard Gorka Larrea who played 90 minutes in the reserves against Harrisburg City Islanders last Friday.
This is only the third meeting between the two sides in Major League Soccer, with the Whitecaps having won both of the previous encounters. Montreal haven't played a league match in Vancouver since losing 2-0 in the club's inaugural MLS game in March 2012, but the Impact were celebrating after their last match at BC Place. A 2-2 tie last spring in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship saw Montreal lift the Voyageurs Cup.
With Vancouver's strong home form and Montreal's difficulties on the road the Whitecaps will be strong favourites heading in. Carl Robinson's team has lost just once at BC Place this season, while the Impact are yet to win away.
Where to Watch:
Join me along with Jason de Vos and Perry Solkowski for all of the action from BC Place. We are live on TSN with the pre-match show starting at 9:30pm et/6:30pm pt. There will be features on Carl Robinson, Kekuta Manneh, and Montreal's Canadian international winger Issey Nakajima-Farran.