The Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs are here and Columbus Crew SC is ready for its second consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Black & Gold will face the Montreal Impact in the two-legged series that kicks off in Quebec, Canada at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Crew SC lost both of its regular-season matches against the Impact, but a lot has changed since the two teams squared off over the summer. Just ask forward Jack McInerney, who traded the light-blue Impact jersey for the Black & Gold one in July.
“They’re a different team, obviously, with [Didier] Drogba,” the Crew SC striker says. “And they also moved [Ignacio] Piatti out left. So it brings a different dynamic.”
Drogba, the former Chelsea FC forward, joined the Impact during the summer transfer window and his since torn up MLS with 11 goals in 11 games. Piatti meanwhile has scored nine goals and delivered eight assists. Together, they make for one of the most potent attacking duos in the League.
“I think they’re looking more at those two to create chances for them and they have a bunch of ball-winners in the midfield,” McInerney says. “I think at the end of the day they’re going to play the same style: counterattack. And we’re going to have to be careful in the back.”
Defending Drogba and Piatti certainly poses a challenge, as Toronto FC most recently experienced in its 3-0 Knockout Round loss in Montreal. Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter is well aware, but confident his team is up for the challenge.
“It’s going to be hard, there’s no question,” Berhalter says. “It’s similar to when we played against [Sebastian] Giovinco, even though they’re different players. You want to limit the damage. You know they’re going to do something that is going to be dangerous and you know they’re going to get some opportunities, but you want to limit them.”
Berhalter plans to deal with Montreal’s counter attacks by finding the right balance between attacking and defending.
“Having said that, there’s no secret that we like to attack and we like to be aggressive, so it’s going to be a combination,” he says. “I don’t expect us to be backing down, to be changing the way we play, so it’s going to be interesting what happens in the game.”
After clean sheets against Toronto (2-0) and D.C. United (5-0), which secured second place in the East and a bye in the Knockout Round for Crew SC, confidence and ambitions are high in Columbus.
“We beat a playoff team that’s now in the Conference Semifinal also, 5-0. And not only did we beat them, we dominated them, created chances and kept a shutout” McInerney says. “It’s definitely good for our confidence. We had a week to prepare for Montreal and we’re ready for anything they’ll throw at us.”
Competing for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals is motivation enough, but the Black & Gold are also looking to make up for past results against the Impact.
“After the result the team had last year in the playoffs, I think everyone’s a bit motivated,” McInerney says. “Also, Montreal already beat Crew SC twice this year, so I think everyone has a little fire under their skin.”
A little fire doesn’t hurt, but cool heads might prevail in this two-match series, which concludes at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 8.
“We don’t have to press the game, we still have a home match,” McInerney says. “I think at the end of the day, in the 90th minute, you’re not going to see us throwing guys forward no matter what the result is.”
“It’s game management. We have to be smart. We know they’re a good team, we know they have the ability to score goals and we have to manage the game.”
Crew SC and the Montreal Impact will meet at Stade Saputo at 7 p.m. Sunday. The match will be broadcast live nationally on Fox Sports 1. Locally, CD102.5 and La Mega 103.1 will provide radio coverage. Crew SC will hold a viewing party at its Heineken Star Lounge starting at 6 p.m. For tickets to the Second Leg at MAPFRE Stadium on Nov. 8, click here.