Ignacio Piatti - Montreal Impact - October 16, 2016
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Home and abroad: Montreal vs. DC a clash of contrasting styles, identities

Representing a cosmopolitan, primarily French-speaking city seen as the closest thing to a European metropolis in North America, the Montreal Impact espouse a fittingly international approach to competing in Major League Soccer.

The Impact will face a stark contrast in organizational philosophies when they kick off their Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs campaign at RFK Stadium in Washington on Thursday night (7:30 pm ET, UniMás, TSN1, TSN5, RDS2).

D.C. United, Montreal's Knockout Round opponent, have concentrated on building a successful foundation in the U.S. capital with primarily MLS-tested talent.

"It's the reality of what Montreal is, and D.C., they've been here for a while, they've won the title for a while, so they have a concentration of getting, I guess more American players," Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier, who grew up in Brossard, Quebec, a Montreal suburb on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, said after practice Tuesday.

"So that's their philosophy, that's their way of approaching things. They have a coach who has played there, and we have a coach who's played here, and the difference is, yeah, there's maybe not a ton of Canadian players that you can go out and make the nucleus of your team. And I think our team fits to what Montreal is – it's very cosmopolitan."

Signing Chelsea and Cote d'Ivoire legend Didier Drogba last season was the biggest of several splashes Montreal has made in attracting international talent, luring the likes of striker Marco Di Vaio and Italy great Alessandro Nesta to play in North America.

Argentine midfielder Ignacio Piatti led the Impact in scoring with 17 goals this season, tied for third in the league. Matteo Mancuso has taken over from Drogba as Montreal's starting striker since joining the team on loan from Italian club Bologna, which is owned by Impact owner Joey Saputo. Defender Laurent Ciman played for Belgium at Euro 2016.

"I think we have a European type of approach where we try to play more of the tactical – you can't say more plain, because every team tries to play their own way – but a Ben Olsen D.C. team is a team that never stops," said Bernier, a 38-year-old who has 53 caps representing Canada, scoring two goals for his country from 2004-15.

"They really work 90 minutes, and we're a team that tries to play the game in another way, in a different way. I'm not going to say it's a better way, it's just a different way with the type of players we have, with the experience that we have, and the skill set of players that we have."

A D.C. legend, Olsen starred for the Black-and-Red's two most recent MLS Cup-winning squads, in 1999 and 2004. As the team's head coach, he's guided United to three straight playoff appearances, and four in their last five seasons.

He counts on rising US national team prospect Bill Hamid in goal and usually starts an all-American backline of Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Sean Franklin and Taylor Kemp. And while forwards Lamar Neagle and Patrick Mullins, D.C. United's leading scorers, are also American, Impact coach Mauro Biello noted that Washington also gets strong contributions from midfielders Luciano Acosta of Argentina and Marcelo Sarvas of Brazil.

“Yeah, maybe we have a few more foreigners than them. You know, there's different teams that have different philosophies, but for us right now we're just focusing on playing well and growing as a team and going on a run here,” said Biello, a native Montrealer who was a star striker for the Impact before they joined MLS.

"They're a good team, they've got some good internationals also in Acosta, that's a very good player, you know, Sarvas – these are important players on that team … Every team has a good mix of internationals and Americans, and it's about having that rhythm at the end of the year and making the difference when it counts."