If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, the Montreal Impact have done Sporting Kansas City quite well.
The Impact try to remain the only perfect team in MLS on Saturday against a Sporting KC squad that knows very well about fast starts.
With four wins in as many matches, Montreal is the only team yet to lose or tie a game. The Impact are the fourth team in as many years to begin 4-0-0, joining the Los Angeles Galaxy (2010), Real Salt Lake (2011) and their opponent this weekend. Sporting KC opened with wins in their first seven matches last season while allowing two goals - the same number Montreal has surrendered thus far.
The formula has been consistent for the Impact - score first and then protect the lead. They have grabbed a 1-0 lead in all four matches, and that was the final scoreline last Saturday in a victory over New York. Marco Di Vaio scored in the 14th minute off a pass from Patrice Bernier, and Montreal's job was made easier when the Red Bulls were reduced to 10 men for the final 16 minutes.
Despite scoring in each of the last two matches, Di Vaio still sees plenty of room for improvement in the final third.
"I could have scored two or three if I'd played better," the Italian striker told the team's official website. "Every game, we progress. I feel better and we're all finding each other better."
Bernier has orchestrated the Impact's offense, registering match-winning assists on three goals and converting one from the penalty spot himself. The midfielder's steady play on the ball has also helped Montreal's defense, which has conceded just one goal in the run of play.
"The defenders know that they can give him the ball at any time, and the players up top know how he anticipates the play and starts new moves right away," Impact sporting director Nick De Santis said.
Sporting KC (1-1-2) has struggled to find its offensive bearings, entering this match having scored one goal during an 0-1-2 winless streak. Sporting has remained tight defensively, though, and recorded its second consecutive scoreless draw last Saturday at New England.
"The great thing is, now two games, we've put together a 90-minute game together where we competed," coach Peter Vermes said. "I don't like the fact we didn't score a goal, but I also know that it's hard when a team puts 11 guys within 30 or 40 yards of their goal."
Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen did not have to make a save for his second straight clean sheet, and KC has yielded only one shot on goal in those two draws. The backline showed no fall-off last Saturday without central defender Matt Besler, who was a key contributor for the United States in its 0-0 draw at Mexico on Tuesday in World Cup qualifying.
Sporting midfielder Graham Zusi started both qualifiers for the U.S., and his status is uncertain. Vermes will have Bobby Convey available after the winger missed last weekend's match with a knee injury.
Each team had a victory and a draw in last season's series, with the Impact winning 2-0 in their only trip to Kansas City. The last meeting was a scoreless tie in Montreal on Sept. 22.