It’ll be a worst vs. first affair on Saturday at Stade Saputo when the cellar-dwelling Montreal Impact (1-6-4, 7 points) will host the conference-leading New England Revolution (7-3-2, 23 points). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Revolution head into their first meeting of the season with the Impact a week removed from a 2-1 win over second-place D.C. United. The victory not only extended the Revolution’s winning streak to five, but also pushed their overall unbeaten run to seven (5-0-2).
On the other end of the spectrum, the Impact are coming off a 4-1 thrashing from the Colorado Rapids last Saturday in league play. However, a midweek 1-1 draw against Toronto in the first leg of the Canadian Championship should bolster their confidence.
Here’s what to watch for as the best and worst in the Eastern Conference meet in Montreal:
• Quieting the always-dangerous Marco Di Vaio. Last year, the Italian striker accumulated a team-best 20 goals by toeing the offside line to perfection. In a split second, Di Vaio can go from afterthought to goal scorer by getting in a defender’s blind spot and pouncing on a well-timed through ball. Although Di Vaio is coming off a nagging hamstring injury, the Revolution are still prepared for the sneaky striker to be as dangerous as ever.
"Those kinds of strikers are always in movement,” Revolution center back Jose Goncalves told the media earlier this week. “So you must keep an eye on them, because sometimes they play always the line offside and they like to do that until at one point where the referee will be tired to give offside and he will let him run. That's why we have to stay always focused and be ready for that."
• Can Mullins make it five-for-five? One of the biggest reasons behind the Revolution’s recent run of success is the current form of their rookie forward, Patrick Mullins. After he was given the starting striker’s spot four weeks ago, Mullins has been on a tear, grabbing goals in each of his last four games. While coach Jay Heaps has praised Mullins for his hold-up play -- which has allowed Teal Bunbury, Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen to find more space and opportunities -- there’s no doubt that the 11th overall pick will be looking for goal No. 5 on Saturday against a defense that was ravaged by the Rapids last week.
• Keeping the offense firing on all cylinders. The Revolution may not have gone as goal-crazy last week vs. D.C. as they did against Seattle (5-0) and Philadelphia (5-3), but the offense was nearly as dangerous in a 2-1 victory. A slow start gave way to a stronger second-half performance thanks to the attacking contributions of fullbacks Andrew Farrell and Chris Tierney. With Heaps always looking to make improvements, expect the Revolution to ask more from his wingers and outside backs.
“It's important to have balance in your attack,” Heaps told the media earlier this week. “We look like we're free-flowing, but there are some specific points and areas that guys have to cover in case there (are) turnovers, and losses of possession. I think last game was pretty good for Farrell to get up into the attack, and Chris Tierney as well, so when our outside guys are in good support positions offensively, it helps our attack all the way around."
• Mapp and McInerney look to reprise strong form vs. Revolution. Though Montreal’s offense may live and die by the success of Di Vaio, the Revolution know full well what Justin Mapp and Jack McInerney have done to them in the past. Mapp, who was once a central figure in the mid-2000s Revolution-Fire rivalry, has played his best games against the Revolution over the years. Ditto for McInerney, who scored three game-winners against the Revolution between 2012 and 2013. The Revolution won’t let either escape their sights on Saturday.
• Despite their struggles, Montreal should not to be taken lightly. With only one win through their first 11 league games, it may seem like the Impact are ripe for getting routed by the first-place Revolution. But they boast a number of quality veterans, including defensive midfielder Patrice Bernier, and their recent 1-1 draw at Toronto in the Canadian Championship is proof that there’s still plenty of fight left in Frank Klopas’ side. What’s more: the Impact collect an average of 4.9 shots on goal per game, tying them for fourth in MLS with Salt Lake, Sporting K.C., and the Fire. In light of that, expect the Revolution -- who not long ago were also battling to stay afloat in the east -- to approach Saturday’s game just as they would against the cream of the conference.
“You have to realize how much parity there is in this league, and things can change very quickly,” Tierney told the media earlier this week. “So I don’t get too high after a win or too low after a loss, and try to maintain that focus and just carry on."