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Preview: Montreal set for big home debut vs. hungry Fire

MONTREAL IMPACT vs CHICAGO FIRE
OLYMPIC STADIUM, Montreal, Que.

March 17, 2012 (WEEK 2, MLS Game #9)
2 p.m. ET (TSN/RDS)

What promises to be a magical afternoon is ahead at Olympic Stadium as the Montreal Impact make their long-awaited MLS home debut when they take on the Chicago Fire. The Impact are hoping to set a Canadian attendance record for the match, after kicking off their inaugural season with a 2-0 defeat at Vancouver Whitecaps FC last week. In a bit of symmetry on a number of levels, the Chicago Fire provide the opening day opposition; the contest is the 2012 season opener for the Fire.

REFEREE: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Adam Wienckowski; JAR (opposite): Bill Dittmar; 4th: Geoff Gamble MLS Career: 214 games; FC/gm: 25.8; Y/gm: 3.4; R: 58; pens: 44

INJURY REPORT: MONTREAL IMPACT -- OUT: DF Nelson Rivas (L hamstring strain); DF Evan James (high ankle sprain); DOUBTFUL: DF Gienir Garcia (L ankle sprain); DF Hassoun Camara (R quad strain); MF Sinisa Ubiparipovic (MCL); FW Eduardo Sebrango (L groin strain); PROBABLE: FW Justin Braun (R ankle sprain) ... CHICAGO FIRE – OUT: MF Steven Kinney (R posterior tib tendinitis); DOUBTFUL: DF Austin Berry (R lower leg hematoma)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none

SUSPENDED: none

HEAD-TO-HEAD

ALL-TIME: First meeting. RETURN MATCH: 9/15: Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact, 7:30 p.m. CT

• The meeting comes 31 years after the Montréal Manic set a Canadian soccer record with a crowd of 58,542 at Stade Olympique for a quarterfinal match against the Chicago Sting in the old NASL.

• In the first game of the best-of-three series on Sept. 2, 1981, Gordon Hill, Damir Suvetski and Alan Willey scored for Le Manic, overcoming goals by the Sting’s Karl-Heinz Granitza and Ingo Peter for a 3-2 victory. But the Sting won both games in Chicago 4-2 to advance, eventually winning Soccer Bowl ’81 with a shootout victory over the Cosmos.

• Coaches record: Jesse Marsch vs. CHI: first game ... Frank Klopas vs. MTL: first game

MONTREAL IMPACT

The Montreal Impact began their MLS history with a 2-0 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the opening match of the 2012 season at BC Place.

LAST MATCH

• Whitecaps FC opened the scoring for the 2012 MLS season after just four minutes. Alain Rochat sent a long ball to Eric Hassli, and the big Frenchman flicked it into the path of his rushing countryman, Sebastian Le Toux. The forward found himself in alone with goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts before sliding the ball into the bottom right corner.

• Just nine minutes into the second half Camilo doubled Vancouver’s lead, beating his marker and cutting inside the box to finish with his left foot. It was a composed finish to cap a fine piece of buildup play, during which Le Toux passed through Hassli’s legs to Chiumiento, who then sent Camilo into the box.

• Impact captain Davy Arnaud was able to overcome injury to start in the midfield, while new signing Matteo Ferrari slotted into central defense in Jesse Marsch’s head coaching debut.

• MONTREAL IMPACT (4-4-2): Donovan Ricketts - Jeb Brovsky, Tyson Wahl, Matteo Ferrari, Josh Gardner - Davy Arnaud, Felipe Martins, Patrice Bernier (Miguel Montano 81), Justin Mapp (Mike Fucito 64) - Justin Braun (Andrew Wenger 72), Sanna Nyassi.

TEAM NEWS

• Since the Chicago Fire in 1998, when they played their first ever MLS game on the road and won, no expansion team has opened their inaugural campaign with a road victory. The Fire defeated the Miami Fusion in a meeting of the first expansion teams in MLS history – playing for the Fire that day was Impact head coach Jesse Marsch.

• “Looking at the game as a whole, I don’t think we gave away much,” Marsch said. “Yeah, we gave up a goal in the [fourth] minute, then we gave up another at the beginning of the second half. Then they hit the post... Other than that, there was a lot of solid defensive work. We just need to continue to move that along, and certainly good starts will now be vital for us.”

• The goal by Sebastien Le Toux, the earliest goal to start a season in MLS history, was also the earliest goal ever conceded by an MLS team in its inaugural league match.

• “Of course there’s always nerves for the first game, with a new team and everything else,” Marsch said. “But I think our team is still confident in who we are and what we are about. We know we’re going to have to continue to grow through this process, but I'm not sure I would attribute [the team’s performance] to nerves.”

• Mapp spent eight years with the Fire, along with current Impact assistant coaches Denis Hamlett and Mike Sorber, as well as midfielder Justin Mapp.

“I still know players from that team, I have friends in the city,” said Mapp. “I enjoyed my time there, but when the game starts, they’re the opponent. I played a very short time for Philadelphia also, and it was special when I played them again. It will be the same on Saturday, as I spent the bulk of my career [with the Fire].”

• Andrew Wenger, the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s SuperDraft, came off the bench for his professional debut despite missing time during preseason while with the U.S. national team and finishing his studies at Duke University.

As of right now, he's a guy we know we can count on. He's moving along and gotten better,'' Marsch said. “We'll be looking to use him in some capacity Saturday.''

• Defender Zarek Valentin has been called into the U.S. U-23 national team for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament and will miss the next two matches.

• The Impact on Thursday announced the signing of 35-year-old striker Bernardo Corradi. He has made more than 250 appearances in Italy’s Serie A, most notably with Chievo Verona, Lazio and Udinese, scoring 68 goals in that span. He also played with Valencia in Spain’s La Liga and the EPL’s Manchester City.

• “It’s been good to have Bernardo here with us for a couple of weeks,” said Marsch. “He’s shown in that time that he’s a good player, a good leader and has great experience. We are excited to have him as a part of our group and we feel he can help us be a better team.”

CHICAGO FIRE

• Along with CONCACAF Champions League participants Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC, the Fire open their 2012 season a week later than the remaining clubs in the league.

• The Fire concluded their preseason schedule last Friday with a 3-1 victory against the NASL’s Minnesota Stars FC on a Toyota Park training field. Dominic Oduro, Daniel Paladini and Orr Barouch scored for Chicago.

• Here’s the Fire team: Jay Nolly (Paolo Tornaghi 46’); Dan Gargan (Tony Walls* 46’), Jalil Anibaba, Cory Gibbs (Hunter Jumper 64’), Gonzalo Segares; Rafael Robayo (Daniel Paladini 64’), Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause © (Michael Videira 82’); Marco Pappa; Dominic Oduro (Federico Puppo 70’), Patrick Nyarko (Corben Bone 64’)

• The Fire concluded the 2011 season with a 7-2-1 record over the final 10 games, and while it was not enough to secure a playoff berth, the club can count upon all 11 starters from the late-season run again this year.

• “We have a good group and a good set of guys and us not making the playoffs the last two years, there’s more pressure from that alone,” defender Cory Gibbs said. “The chemistry that we have and the team that’s been built, we’re willing to take on the pressure regardless.”

• Put together as a makeshift strike pair, the Ghanaian duo of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro found great success in the close-season stretch and begin 2012 as the first-choice strike partnership.

• “It’s a great combination,” Oduro said. “I know he plays on the wing sometimes, but I’d love to have him as a forward all the time. With me and him up front, there’s more of a threat.”

• The two were also called into Ghana’s national team for the March 1 friendly vs. Chile, both playing in the 1-1 draw. “It was very special,” Nyarko said. “The call came very late, and it was very convenient to know someone in there ... I just couldn’t believe it until I was on the field.”

• The Fire have also been bolstered their squad in recent days. They signed German international defender Arne Friedrich, who has made 88 national team appearances for Germany and played in the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, also adding goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi and rookie Tony Walls.

• Klopas said Friedrich will not make the trip to Montreal. “We’re hoping to get him here Friday or Saturday, and then start the training with the team next week,” Klopas said. “We’ll see where he is. I’ve talked to him, and our fitness guy has constantly been on the phone with him. I’m sure it’s going to take a certain amount of time for him to get to the level we want him to be.”

• “You can see the mentality of the team is different,” midfielder Pavel Pardo said. “If you want to have a good team, you have to have guys on your team with winner mentalities, that’s important. Now, everybody thinks like that.”

• If there is a question mark for the season opener, it’s between the posts. Sean Johnson was called into the U.S. U-23 national team for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament and will miss the season opener. Newcomer Paolo Tornaghi will be available for selection, as will Jay Nolly.

• “We’re very comfortable with the guys that we have, and we knew this was going to be the situation,” Klopas said. “Jay is an experienced guy, and Paolo, his experience is different. He’s not the kid out of the draft or college, he’s been in a good environment. We’re comfortable with either choice.”