The Montreal Impact have put together a solid season that has them comfortably above Orlando City, D.C. United, and the New England Revolution, who are all scrapping for the sixth and final playoff position. They’ve done so with a scrappy offense, often getting results when only scoring a single goal. They have a tendency to grind out points thanks to their leading man, Ignacio Piatti, who has put on an offensive performance so far this season.
Ignacio, colloquially known as "Nacho," sits in the top 10 in the league in goals scored, game-winning goals, multi-goal games, shots taken, and shots on target. The Impact can directly attribute 12 points to Piatti thanks to his four game-winners.
Piatti has all the makings of an MVP candidate this season. How Orlando deals with him tonight will be a good indicator of the team’s ability to learn from its past mistakes with other top attackers. He’s yet another looming obstacle that Orlando City’s defense will have to face after the likes of David Villa, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco in recent weeks. While superstar Didier Drogba may be unavailable, Nacho has the firepower to cause just as much trouble for the Lions.
He was the Impact’s driving force before Drogba arrived and he’s been the man leading the charge to a comfortable playoff position for the Quebecois club. His 14 goals put him ahead of Cyle Larin at fourth in the league, just two behind Giovinco and three behind league-leaders David Villa and Bradley Wright-Phillips. He scored Montreal’s lone goal against Orlando City in the Impact’s 2-1 loss in May’s reverse fixture when he turned around Rafael Ramos and slipped the ball past Bendik. He’ll be looking to do the same again tonight in front of the home crowd.
Nacho may start from a deeper position than most of the premier goal scorers that the Lions have had to deal with, but he has a lot of the same attributes that have hurt Orlando’s defense. His intelligence off the ball is crucial to his success as he slips into the cracks between defenders and makes smart runs into space. It’s difficult to anticipate where he will show up next with how he moves around the attacking third. Against attackers that have those same traits like Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey, and Giovinco, Orlando came out behind in recent weeks.
But Jason Kreis is positive that Orlando City can learn from previous mistakes.
"Piatti is an extremely intelligent player that drifts into spaces that can hurt you," he said in the lead-up to tonight’s match. "And we know, playing against those players for the past several weeks, we’ve had some issues. We’ve had some good performances and we’ve had some bad. The good thing is, I think now we have the certain requisite amount of experiences — both positive and negative — that we should be in a good place to handle a player like that."
But with a jam-packed schedule of matches continuing and a showdown with the high-powered LA Galaxy this weekend, Kreis will have a difficult decision when it comes to personnel on the defensive end. David Mateos and José Aja have been successful as the center back pairing, but Kreis may keep them in reserve for Sunday’s match. Rafael Ramos is likely back from the hamstring injury he originally sustained against the Impact, which should come as some relief, but he proved ineffective taking Piatti on 1-on-1 last time out. Tommy Redding’s experiment as a right back could prove useful tonight, given that Piatti generally starts on the left wing, but he can pop up in all kinds of locations. Having to account for Dominic Oduro’s pace on the other side of the field limits the resources Orlando can commit to Nacho.
As Kreis has said, tonight will be an important indicator of Orlando’s defensive progress. If the Lions can handle a player of Piatti’s ability, it will prove that they are coming along in the position that has been their weakest while in MLS.