The Montreal Impact head to MAPFRE Stadium for the second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals with a narrow 2-1 aggregate lead. The Columbus Crew SC on Sunday will have to simply win at home to prevent the Impact from making history in Ohio. It would be an historic achievement if Montreal could become the first Canadian club to reach a Conference Final in MLS history.
Costa Rican international Johan Venegas sunk the crew last Sunday 2-1 at the Stade Saputo. Now with this result Columbus has to win by shutting out the Impact or winning by two goals if Montreal scores two goals or more. The home club has no room for error heading into the decisive second leg. However, the Canadians only need a draw or a win to punch their ticket to the next round.
Of course, the scenarios listed above do not account for extra time. If, by the end of regulation, the score is 2-1 in favor of Columbus the game will head to extra time to decide a victor, since the aggregate will be 3-3 and both clubs have scored a goal on the road. Columbus will be hoping that home cooking gives them an edge on Sunday over the Impact and prevents possible extra time or potentially penalties.
The Crew's chances of advancing increase because of the simple fact that they are home. Columbus dominated at home with a (W-D-L) 9-4-4 record and finished with a +18 goal differential. Against the Impact, the Crew has had their way especially in Columbus, where Montreal has gone 1-0-5 since the Canadians joined the league in 2012. Montreal this year recorded their first victory in Columbus, beating the Crew 2-1 on June the sixth.
However, at the moment Columbus has their backs against the wall and will need their midfield to take over this match quickly. Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani will have to chase down the ball when Montreal has it, and then start the attack right away. From there, Federico Higuain, Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will need to put the Impact’s backline on their heels. Allowing them to breathe might give the Canadian's midfield a chase to stretch their legs which will potentially hurt them.
The more chances Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti get the more Montreal will score, and thereby go one step closer to the conference finals. For Columbus to avoid that and for them to prevent Impact speedster Dominic Oduro sprinting in behind their defense and causing havoc for Columbus goalkeeper Steve Clark, their midfield is going have to hog the ball. Preventing the Impact from gaining any rhythm is crucial. Of course, Columbus have a star striker of their own in Kei Kamara, who will be confident of taking any chances which come his way.
The Impact in this match will need to rely on smart decision making and quick reflexes. They will not have the ball for long durations, which means whenever they do get an opportunity they must make the most of it. In the first game, the defense of Columbus showed that they are capable of making costly errors.
Crew captain Michael Parkhurst gift wrapped Montreal the victory in the first game with his mistake late in the game. Parkhurst lost control of the ball and his balance, which led to Venegas scoring the game winner last Sunday. The same error will not occur at MAPFRE Stadium, but running at the Crew's defense might generate another mistake to occur.
Prediction: Columbus 1-1 Montreal
The game will be close and physical neither club will give up an inch without fouls or tackles. As a result, we will see a low scoring game which will benefit the Impact. Only needing a goal to advance gives Montreal’s savvy and speeding attacking core motivation to crash the Columbus' party.