Photo by Nick Turchiaro/ISIphotos.com
By KEVIN KOCZWARA
The Montreal Impact could once again be without Alessandro Nesta and Hernan Bernardello this weekend.
Nesta and Bernardello trained with their teammates on Tuesday, but Montreal Impact’s assistant coach Mauro Biello wouldn’t confirm if either of the injured pair would return to the team in time for Friday’s game against the Houston Dynamo.
“We don’t want to take any chances in both cases because, in the end, a setback could hurt us all the way to the end of the season,” Biello told reporters earlier in the week. “We want to play it safe with these two important players.”
Nesta missed last weekend’s trip to Chicago with an adductor injury. Bernardello, acquired by the Impact in late July, has been inured with an ankle sprain since Aug. 31 after a couple run-outs with the club.
If Nesta doesn’t return from his injury, which has been nagging him for much of the season, Montreal looks set to call on 23-year-old center back Wandrille Lefèvre again. Lefèvre made his first MLS start last Saturday in Chicago.
Here are more notes from around the Eastern Conference:
NEW YORK RED BULLS
New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke confirmed that Bradley Wright-Phillips ( right hamstring strain) will miss this Saturday’s home game against the New England Revolution. The English forward was injured in the Red Bull’ 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Sept. 22 and has yet to recover.
“Bradley is definitely out this weekend,” Petke told reporters earlier this week. “His prognosis is more of wait until the hamstring feels better and then we get him out doing the light training and stuff, so that could be the next week, it could be the week after.”
Wright-Phillips had played four straight games for the Red Bulls before being injured.
Roy Miller (Achilles) and Connor Lade (knee) are unlikely to suit up against the Revolution as well.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
New England was a different team when Juan Agudelo replaced Dimitry Imbongo in the second half of last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Houston, because the Revs looked like they were out of ideas when trying to breakdown the Dynamo’s defense until the youngster came on. It was only a matter of minutes after the forward entered the game that Saer Sene scored the opening goal.
Now, it looks like Agudelo will be fit and ready to go on Saturday in New York to face his old team the Red Bulls.
Since joining the Revolution via trade with Chivas USA earlier this season, Agudelo returned to the kind of form that once made him a coveted teenager. The 20-year-old says he’s healthy and recovered from a nagging hamstring injury, which is a big boost for New England as they need every point they can get to book a spot in the playoffs in these final weeks of the regular season.
Something finally went right for D.C. United this season. Earlier this week United took home the U.S. Open Cup after beating Real Salt Lake in Rio Tinto Stadium, 1-0, thanks to a Lewis Neal goal. But that doesn’t mean D.C. gets to rest. Instead, Major League Soccer’s bottom-dwellers get to go back to work on Friday against a hungry Chicago team looking to continue its surge for a playoff spot.
The big positive of the short week is that Ben Olsen’s men come into a tough match with plenty of confidence and a game at home, which is a big plus because D.C. has been awful on the road this season save the game in Salt Lake City this week.
Montreal has not been kind to Houston. The Dynamo have never won in Montreal — one win and a draw — and the last time the Dynamo traveled to Stade Saputo on Aug. 24, the Impact gave them their worst ever-defeat, a 5-0 thrashing. Thankfully for Houston, this time they get to take on Montreal at home, inside the confines of BBVA Compass Stadium.
As a result, veteran midfielder Brad Davis is confident this game will be different. After all, this is the Dynamo’s favorite time of year since the playoff push is in full-effect, and he knows this is great chance for Houston to take three points and put pressure on Montreal to keep pace since only two points separate the sides.
“This is a great opportunity for us. This Friday is the most important one, we can jump Montreal in the standings and hopefully give ourselves room,” Davis told HoustonDynamo.com. “They still have a game in hand but it doesn’t matter, once you get the points and put pressure on the other teams, that’s always a good thing.”
Like American MLS teams, Canadian teams have to have a certain number of players from the country the team is located. And in Toronto, fans are getting restless with the team’s long-term treatment of Canadian players. At a supporter’s question and answer conference coach Ryan Nelsen had to respond to those concerns and said that he’d love to field a team with more Homegrown players.
“I want more Canadian players on my team,” said Nelsen. “Even when the Canadian (national) team goes and plays in Spain and they take all my players away and I can’t field them for TFC, I’ll take that hit. Not a problem.”
And at a Tuesday practice the manager told a reporter that he was disappointed by the question because Toronto is producing and playing more Canadian talent than any other of the Canadian teams.
“I was expecting a lot worse questions, to tell you the truth,” Nelsen said. “But on that one I was a wee bit let down because no other Canadian team is producing the young kids that we’re playing and giving them the opportunity.”
Eddie Gaven has been a mainstay and the bedrock for a lot of the Crew’s success in recent years, but a torn ACL earlier this year forced Columbus to look for another playmaker and goalscorer out wide. When Brian Bliss took over as interim head coach on Sept. 3, he needed to find an answer on the wing because the Crew just didn’t have the kind of production they needed from the wide areas to be successful. So, he turned to Bernardo Añor and Dominic Oduro and the move has paid off so far.
“Just like a plane, if your wings are no good, you can’t fly,” Oduro told MLSSoccer.com. “We’re flying high right now.”
While neither player is a natural winger, they’ve added another dimension to an attack that desperately needed it. Federico Higuain has flourished again with both players flanking him. And the Crew attack has become more fluid, with Oduro making runs in behind the defense and Añor countering his movement by moving inside, giving Higuain space to roam outside.
If the Chicago Fire make the playoffs after their slow start to the season it will surely be because of the impact Mike Magee has had since he was traded to the Fire in exchange for Robbie Rogers earlier this year. But Chris Rolfe’s transformation from goalscorer to midfielder and his ability to shift around and make things happen (despite not putting the ball in the back of the net often) has also aided to the Fire’s turnaround. He’s become a vital cog in a team that has had a rotating cast of wide players this season.
“Chris is a good pro, and he’s a great finisher. And as any forward knows, you go through lulls where the goal seems a little smaller than it is, which is fine,” Magee told MLSSoccer.com this week. “He’s still committed to helping the team win, and we’re going to need him big-time.”
The Union have a chance to put some distance between themselves Chicago, Columbus and New England this weekend with Toronto FC coming to PPL Park. But coach John Hackworth knows that Toronto’s record doesn’t tell the whole story and, despite not being in the playoff picture, Toronto will bring their best game to try and stifle his side.
“It’s certainly one of the biggest games,” Union manager John Hackworth told the team’s official website. “We’re in a position right now with this game, two games left at home, being in fifth place right now, it’s important that we treat this game with the respect it deserves. And our opponent is probably much better than people are giving them credit for. It’s going to be a really tough game, but one for us as an organization is very important.”
Toronto and the Union have played to a pair of 1-1 draws this season so far. Both times Jack McInerney scored in stoppage time to salvage a point for the Union.
Hackworth will hope the team can continue the form that saw it beat Sporting Kansas City last weekend, 1-0. Conor Casey scored the only goal of the game, which ended a five-game winless streak and a club-record 346-minute goalless streak.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Kansas City will head to Columbus for the first time season on Saturday. Sporting has beaten the Crew in the team’s two previous meetings, which were both at home, scoring three goals in each occasion. But this is a different Crew team than the one they faced earlier in the year. So if Kansas City wants to keep their playoff destiny in their hands they’ll have to do better to make their chances count than they did against Philadelphia last week.