HARRISON, N.J. – When the New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact square off in a battle of two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), expect a good old-fashioned chess match.
Both clubs are entering their showdown at Red Bull Arena with the goal of leaving with sole possession of first place in the East, and they both will probably stay true to their vastly different styles of play in order to do so.
For the Red Bulls, that means deploying the possession-based system that has helped them win four of their last five games. That strategy, however, is the kind of approach the Impact fare so well against, as they deploy a counterattacking style that's racked up the points for much of the season.
“They’re quite good at it,” Tim Cahill told reporters on Tuesday. “I think they sit and are quite clever. They’ve got a lot of players who, defensively, are very tactful and also attacking wise they’ve got goalscorers in them. I can see them coming in here and not going gung-ho. I see them sitting back and playing football and waiting for the right moment to hit us.”
Leading the charge for the Impact is forward Marco Di Vaio, who has already punished the Red Bulls this season. Di Vaio scored the lone goal when Montreal handed New York a 1-0 loss at the Olympic Stadium on March 23 and the Red Bulls know that they must be more alert defensively against the veteran forward if they are to be successful this time around.
“Since I’ve known Di Vaio, he does the same thing,” said captain Thierry Henry. “He will be offsides 15 times and once you think he’s [offsides again] that’s when he scores. That’s the typical Italian center forward. They slip on the last center back, they gamble every time and once it will work and that’s usually enough for him.
“That’s the worst type of striker you can defend on, because they’re not too interested in coming to play but they're always in your back gambling, seeing if they can go clean through on goal. I wasn’t playing in the game in Montreal, but he had four or five like that. Everybody knew and everybody still knows what he is all about, but he still manages to score some goals. “
Does that mean New York need to be more careful with the ball so as to not give it away cheaply against the likes of Di Vaio and Justin Mapp on Wednesday night? Henry doesn’t think so, saying that the Red Bulls cannot play into the hands of Montreal if they want to come away with the win.
“It’s difficult to deal with but you can’t also go out there – because what Di Vaio does, by doing what he’s doing – then suddenly you’re kind of scared and you start to drop and your defense is too low on the field,” said Henry. “You’ve got to be high and that’s the thing, you’ve got to be on the right kind of level of where you should be. That’s the way it is. You can’t be too scared.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.