The Chicago Fire have seemed to recover from a slow start to the season, while the Montreal Impact have taken a step backward after opening with four consecutive wins.
Chicago seeks a third victory in four tries and first on the road when it faces Montreal on Saturday.
The Fire (2-4-1) were shut out in their first three matches and began the year 0-3-1. They’ve won two of three in April, though, including last Saturday’s 1-0 home victory over Columbus on Jeff Larentowicz’s 83rd-minute goal off an assist from Austin Berry.
“We’ve been getting better and better every game,” said goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who earned his second shutout of the season. “You see players growing into roles and people have been stepping up. It’s a positive for us going forward into Montreal.”
Chicago, though, has been outscored 7-1 while going 0-3-1 in its last four games away from home, including a loss in its final road match last season.
Despite Montreal’s recent struggles, the Fire know they’ll be in for a challenge. The Impact (4-1-1) began the season on a tear but fell 2-0 at Sporting Kansas City on March 30 before a 1-all draw against Columbus in their last MLS action April 14.
“They’ve been on top of their game so we’ve got to come out with our ‘A’ game,” Chicago defender Jalil Anibaba said. “I think we’re confident and able to get points up there.”
Montreal defender Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio, who scored his third goal of the season versus the Crew, sat out a 2-0 loss to Toronto on Wednesday in the first leg of the Canadian Championship semifinals in order to rest for Saturday’s contest.
“Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio can’t play (Wednesday) and also be fresh for Saturday,” coach Marco Schallibaum told the team’s official website. “It was a good move before the game because I saw the team for three or four days and I wanted to play like this, and they played very well throughout the week, but (playing them wasn’t) a reality.”
The Impact have scored only two goals over their last four games including Wednesday, both by Di Vaio. Backup goalkeeper Evan Bush doesn’t think that’s indicative of the team’s offensive capabilities, though.
“We are definitely capable of scoring two, three or four goals in a game,” Bush said. “Hopefully we can get on the board (Saturday) and dictate the play and get the result we need.”
Chicago is making the necessary preparations to slow Di Vaio and the Impact offense. Di Vaio scored in the 20th minute, but the Fire responded with three unanswered goals in the most recent meeting Sept. 15.
“Di Vaio is one of the craftiest players in this league, if not one of the smartest players,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to be aware of him but not take too much focus from the other players. (Midfielder Patrice) Bernier is a fantastic player as well, so we’re going to have to be organized.”
These teams played to a 1-all draw in the only meeting in Montreal on March 17, 2012.