TFC, Impact set to renew rivalry in latest ‘401 Derby’

Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, right, challenges Toronto FC's Eriq Zavaleta. (Graham Hughes/CP)

One of the best rivalries in Major League Soccer will be renewed this weekend when the Montreal Impact host Toronto FC in the latest edition of the “401 Derby.”

Both teams enter this match looking for their first win of the campaign – Montreal is still stinging from its two losses to open 2018, while Toronto, coming off a bye week, suffered a 2-0 loss at home in the MLS regular-season curtain raiser.

Here are five key storylines to take note of ahead of Saturday’s match.

‘Garbage’ Big O

Whether he intended to do it or not, TFC forward Tosaint Ricketts fired a shot towards the Impact earlier this week while speaking with local reporters when he offered his opinion on Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

“The place is garbage, to say the least,” Ricketts said with a laugh. “The surface is not the greatest but it’s the same for both sides. So, you can’t really take that as an excuse.”

To be fair to Ricketts, the artificial surface at the “Big O” is far from ideal. It’s hard, unforgiving, and the ball tends to take unusual bounces off of it. Visiting players have routinely complained about having to play on it.

To that end, don’t be surprised if Toronto coach Greg Vanney rests one of his star forwards, either Jozy Altidore or Sebastian Giovinco. Also, defenders Justin Morrow and Chris Mavinga, as well as midfielder Victor Vazquez are all dealing with injuries, and Vanney likely wouldn’t want any of them play on the turf at the “Big O” unless they are fully fit.

Reunion with Raheem Edwards

Saturday’s contest marks the first time TFC will go up against winger Raheem Edwards since losing the Canadian winger in last December’s expansion draft to LAFC – Edwards was traded to Montreal later that same day.

Edwards has made two appearances for the Impact this season, with one start. His best performance came in last weekend’s road game against the Columbus Crew when he came off the bench in the second half to score the equalizer on a spectacular volley in the 85th minute. Unfortunately for Edwards, his goal didn’t stand up, as Gyasi Zardes converted from the penalty spot deep into injury time to lift the Crew to a dramatic 3-2 win.

Thus far, life in Montreal seems to agree with the 22-year-old Edwards, who believes he’ll have of an opportunity to play with the Impact than he would have with TFC this season.

“It’s a better opportunity for me to develop [with the Impact], so I came here with a clear head and a clear conscience, ready to work and develop with the coaching staff,” Edwards told MLSsoccer.com.

“And the players too, who hold me accountable and want to see me and themselves improve, and the team improve from last season. So, I think I’m in a good situation here.”

Beware of Piatti

As always whenever these two teams meet, Toronto will have to keep close tabs on Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti, regarded as one of the best midfielder in the league.

The Argentine maestro has one goal and an assist for the Impact through the first two games of the season. He’s taken seven shots, proving once again he’s not shy about taking his chances when he gets in sight of the opposition’s goal.

Incredibly, eight of Piatti’s 53 goals for Montreal (in regular-season and playoff games) have come against Toronto. His best effort against the Reds came last September when he bagged a brace and added a pair of assists in guiding the Impact to a surprise 5-3 win at BMO Field. It was TFC’s only home loss of the 2017 regular season.

Possible hangover for TFC

While Toronto did have a bye in MLS last weekend, the Reds were busy this past week, playing against Mexican side Tigres in Monterrey on Tuesday in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.

TFC lost the game 3-2, but advanced to the next round on the away goals rule. It was an emotionally taxing and physically demanding game, as evidenced by the previously mentioned injuries to Morrow and Mavinga – both players limped off and had to be substituted.

Fatigue could be a factor for the Reds after so much travel and a short turnaround, although Impact coach Remi Garde is expecting TFC’s best game on Saturday.

“When you play an important game with very high emotion in mid-week, and then you travel away in the league, maybe sometimes it can be difficult,” Garde told reporters in Montreal this week.

“But when you win at mid-week, the (level of) tiredness is not so high. I’m very careful about saying ‘OK, they travelled, they played, they will be tired.’ I don’t believe too much in that.”

Daniel Lovitz a bright spot for Impact

Former TFC winger Daniel Lovitz has been one of the Impact’s standout players through their first two games of the MLS season.

Deployed as a left fullback, Lovitz has started and played a full 90 minutes in both matches, providing Montreal’s attack some width with his probing runs down the flank. He’s also routinely delivered a number of dangerous crosses deep into the opposition’s box for teammates, collecting assists on goals by Matteo Mancosu and Edwards.

On Saturday, look for Lovitz to use his speed to run at and challenge TFC right fullback Gregory van der Wiel, as he tries to take advantage of the Dutchman as he continues to find his feet in MLS.

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