As Sporting KC head north of the border to take on Montreal this weekend, I got with Jon Richan from over at the Impact blog, Mount Royal Soccer, to discuss the match-up.
We ask them...
1) Last time these teams met was on my birthday and SKC gave me a 2-1 win. Besides Drogba and the fact that he changes everything, what is different about this Impact squad from last season?
Jon Richan: I think it's a combination of both Didier Drogba joining the Montreal Impact as well as Head Coach Mauro Biello bringing some stability and belief to the team. Even though Montreal has struggled to pick up wins over their last ten games, I think the right players are in place, it's now a matter of working out the chemistry (especially in the midfield) and getting healthy. Another key has been player retention during the last off season. The Impact have been a team that has continually been going through major personnel revamping since joining MLS. Starting the 2016 season with a very similar starting XI to how they finished 2015 was a big boost at the start the season.
2) Eric Kronberg was drafted by the Wizards and in KC for 8 long seasons. He is an adored figure here although he didn't play much, and when he did it wasn't all that good. How has he fit in with Montreal and what do the fans think of him?
JR: Eric Kronberg is a bit of an unknown here in Montreal. Kronberg has played very little since signing for the Impact. After Troy Perkins left Montreal at the end of the 2014 season there was a little bit of uncertainty regarding who would be the starting keeper. Evan Bush was one of the players that had been with the Impact before they joined MLS, signing with the team in 2011 and winning the NASL Golden Glove Award the same year. It always felt like Kronberg was brought in as security just in case things didn't work out with Bush. Another complicating factor is the third-string keeper and starter for FC Montreal (in the USL) Maxime Crépeau. Crépeau has been widely regarded as being a very promising prospect and completed a training stint with Bologna FC in January. Like I mentioned earlier, Kronberg hasn't featured much but he has done well when called upon. I don't think many fans have much of an opinion regarding him and are pretty happy with the way Bush is working out.
3) I'm sorry to ask because I'm sure you answer a question on him every week... but about that guy Didier Drogba. Qualities are obvious and well known, now he is scoring goals and the Impact in a great position to compete for silverware. But is there anything that he struggles with in MLS... Anything a team has done to successfully contain him? Also is there anything, on or off the field, that has surprised you about him since his arrival?
JR: I think the best, and maybe only way, to shut down Drogba is simply to cut him off from the play and from letting him access the ball. The teams that have been able to shut him down have essentially cut off the Montreal midfield and their ability to get Drogba the ball (this has actually become a real issue over the last ten games or so). When Drogba is playing as a lone striker and he is not able to get the ball it causes problems for the Impact.
Off the field he has been a great ambassador for the club. Even though some local media were frustrated with him during preseason, because they were not able to speak with him, things have really been smoothed out. Drogba has recently been present at a number of local events including the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal. It is difficult to put into a few words what he has meant to the club, other than his signing has been huge for everyone associated with the Montreal Impact.
They ask us...
1) We don't hear a lot about Sporting KC in Montreal. What is the general sense around Sporting KC so far this season? Is there a sense the team can challenge for MLS Cup in December?
Cody Bradley: This is the first time in a long time that this club has looked so bad. The last two years it was a late season drought that did them in, so fans were hopeful for most of the year. But now SKC fans are having to deal with feelings they haven't ever dealt with before. This team has been bad early in the season and not even really given too much hope that anything will get better. A lot of people are very worried about making playoffs at all, let alone winning silverware. The fire Vermes talk has already been thrown around and dumpster fire images started appearing on all the forums. But I personally do not believe the situation is all that terrible. The talent is on this team to get it together and make a run this year.
2) Justin Mapp was a huge fan favourite when he played in Montreal. Even though he has not played many minutes this season, how has he fit into the Sporting KC team?
CB: Simply put, he has not. The poor guy has only played 22 minutes in two appearances. He started the season injured and has slowly been working his way back. But he is no longer listed on the injury report and still sits on the bench. He is older obviously and the team could be taking it easy with him, but it appears that Vermes doesn't not fancy him on his field. When he has been out there, he's been basically non-existent. He struggled to get involved and looked a step behind the pace. Honestly, this situation is really unfortunate because this team desperately needs more attacking options to help put the ball in the net.
3) Who is one player the Montreal Impact defense should pay extra close attention to on Saturday night?
CB: Jimmy Medranda is a fan favorite here in KC who has finally started to get regular playing time. He has fancy feet with clever skills, will run relentlessly, and has the confidence to shoot from anywhere on the field (literally). He plays fullback (at the moment), but he will be ALL OVER the field. Jimmy is great at causing problems for the other team and he will do that on offense and defense. In all actuality, Medranda has been one of the team's best players. He is the only one that will get you excited when he has the ball. I feel like he is the only one on the team who could actually make something happen when he gets the ball at his feet. And not that any of this matters, but when talking about Jimmy you have to mention his personality as well because he is truly one of the happiest, friendliest, most genuine people you have ever seen.