In mid-April, we hit a stretch where we may have worried a bit. Looking at the Houston Dynamo schedule, six of their next nine games were on the road - and in some unkind places. Tomorrow, the Dynamo will close out that stretch with a clash against the Eastern Conference leaders Montreal Impact.
While six of these last nine games were road games, tomorrow's match is the third straight in MLS play. So far, the Dynamo have received nine points from those six matches and didn't lose during this stretch. Along the way, the Dynamo picked up all three in Los Angeles and D.C. in a cross country trip, and snatched a point in Kansas City.
Montreal is likely to be the biggest test so far though. First, the Impact haven't lost at home in six matches. Second, they boast the second highest amount of goals scored (in East) so far this season, led by striker Marco Di Vaio. Di Vaio has nine goals on the season and currently sits in second place in that area among MLS players.
Looking ahead, I spoke to Giovanni Sardo at Mount Royal Soccer to get some insider information on the Impact. Here in Houston, we may only remember the Brian Ching and Jesse Marsch saga... but this Impact team is making a name for themselves in 2013 and have solidified themselves as a top team in the East.
Montreal is off to a great start in 2013 and currently hold the top spot in the Eastern Conference. What has been the driving force behind the hot start?
Coach Marco Schallibaum is one of the main factors. He's found a way to extract the best out of his players and work a system that suits this big mix of North American and European players, something Jesse Marsch struggled with heavily last year. Troy Perkins is having one of his best seasons ever in the MLS and is a top 3 MLS goalkeeper. Patrice Bernier is having an excellent season. His new position, just in front of the defensive line, has made the team more efficient at both ends of the field. He's been a bulldog at the back while being able to relaunch the attack quickly. Finally, Marco Di Vaio has just been sensational. A threat in almost every game. His intelligence and talent make him the most dangerous striker in the league.
Marco Di Vaio looks like has been the top player in terms of offensive production this year with 9 goals. What's been the reason for his success and do you think the Dynamo backline could neutralize him?
The reason for his success lies in the midfield. Coach Marco has taught his midfield players what kind of service Di Vaio needs to be successful. The Italian striker lives and dies on the offside line so the timing of the service from his teammates is crucial. Once the ball takes off from his teammate's foot, he can distance himself quickly from any defender and have a great chance on net.
If you want to learn how to shut down Di Vaio, you just need to watch Saturday's game against Columbus. If the Dynamo can control the midfield and cut off his supply of passes then he will go off quietly into the night. There is nothing more frustrating to him than lack of service and if he feels like all of his runs are being wasted for nothing, he will show is displeasure on the field.
Aside from Di Vaio's goal scoring, who has been the biggest contributor for Montreal this year? The goals are nice, but this team has won eight matches so far and is clearly doing something right.
The biggest contributor would be Patrice Bernier. He has been a great two way threat for the team this year. Playing in a defensive midfielder's role, he is able to become like a third center back and support the defense all while relaunching the attack and finding his favorite target, Marco Di Vaio. He's also been a very good leader, wearing the armband since Captain Davy Arnaud got a concussion on May 1st. He is definitely MVP of the team and should receive a vote or two for MLS MVP.
Andrea Pisanu - Patrice Bernier - Felipe - Justin Mapp
Daniele Paponi - Marco Di Vaio
Final Score Prediction:
Draw 2-2. Don't know, just a hunch.