The New York Red Bulls begin their MLS postseason campaign against a team full of confidence.
The top-seed Red Bulls will visit the No. 5 seed Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo on Sunday afternoon in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal. The second leg will take place at Red Bull Arena on Nov. 6.
Montreal is coming off a convincing 4-2 win over D.C. United in the knockout round on Thursday and will try to earn a rare win over the Red Bulls, who have traditionally dominated the Impact.
Here is a closer look at the series.
SEASON SERIES: The Red Bulls and Impact faced each other three times. Montreal won the first meeting 3-0 at Olympic Stadium, then New York earned 3-1 and 1-0 victories at Red Bull Arena.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
NEW YORK: Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips is an obvious threat, but he was excellent against the Impact on Aug. 13, scoring twice in the 3-1 win.
MONTREAL: The Impact are undefeated when Matteo Mancosu scores. His interplay with Ignacio Piatti will be a major threat for the Red Bulls defense.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Donadel vs. Kljestan. Wright-Phillips may be the dangerman up top, but the real threat will be in midfield. Marco Donadel did an excellent job in shutting down Luciano Acosta on Thursday and will need to do the same against Sacha Kljestan if the Impact want to keep the Red Bulls’ attack at bay.
NEW YORK: If the Red Bulls want to shut down Piatti and Mancosu, they need to cut off the service to them both. Dax McCarty will need to make sure there is pressure on the Impact’s midfield trio, otherwise Montreal will have tons of room on the break.
MONTREAL: Laurent Ciman and the rest of the Impact’s defense was immense on Thursday against D.C. The Belgian international is the leader at the back and will need to keep a close eye on the always-dangerous Wright-Phillips.
The Red Bulls are entering the playoffs on a 16-match unbeaten streak in MLS. They are the in-form side at the moment, but D.C. was also riding high before its demolition by the Impact.
New York has won eight games and lost just three times against Montreal in 13 games. The Red Bulls are also unbeaten in eight of their last nine meetings versus the Impact.
However, given how dynamic the Impact have looked in recent weeks, especially on the counter, they will pose a threat. Mancosu has been lethal, plus Piatti is always a menace in the final third and has an eye for goal.
It will be up to the midfield trios to shut down the respective attacks. Dax McCarty and former Impact midfielder Felipe will need to close down Marco Donadel, Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier, who had far too much time on the ball versus D.C. in the knockout round.
Similarly, the Impact will need to be wary of the Red Bulls press. Montreal will surely be pressured more often than it was on Thursday, so if they cannot build from the middle, then the Canadian side could bow out of the conference semis for a second straight year.