Atlanta United: 5 questions with Montreal reporter

Atlanta United (2-1-2) will play at winless Montreal (0-2-3) on Saturday. It will be the MLS expansion team’s third consecutive road game. They drew at Seattle in the first and at Toronto in the second.

Continuing a (mostly) weekly feature, I asked a beat reporter for Montreal to answer a few questions ahead of the game.

Joey Alfieri is the host of “The Impact this Week” radio show on TSN 690 and is also the sideline reporter during live Montreal Impact radio broadcasts. He is on Twitter @joeyalfieri and on Instagram @joey_alfieri.

Alfieri answered these five questions about Atlanta United’s game at Montreal on Saturday:

Q: How does Montreal view Atlanta United? As a typical expansion team, or as a threat in the Eastern Conference?

A: I think the Impact would be foolish to view Atlanta as just an expansion side. United have shown that they can grab road points in difficult environments, so I think Montreal is fully aware of how dangerous they are right now. The Impact are still searching for their first victory of the season and the pressure will mount if they don’t get it during their home “re-opener” at Saputo Stadium. Underestimating Atlanta would be foolish and I don’t think Mauro Biello or his players will be doing that.

Q: What has happened to Montreal’s defense this season?

A: Continuity has been a big problem so far this season. The Impact haven’t been able to use their ideal back four because of injury and suspension. Hassoun Camara and Victor Cabrera have already both been sent off at different points, Laurent Ciman missed a game because of an injury he picked up while playing for Belgium and Ambroise Oyongo sat on the bench after returning from international duty behind schedule.

The Impact’s defense has let them down in crucial moments this year. Montreal was up 2-0 at home over Seattle with about 10 minutes remaining when they allowed the Sounders to tie the game thanks to blunders and a lack of focus. Two weeks ago in Chicago, the Impact went up 2-1 with just a handful of minutes remaining and they couldn’t close the game out.

Q: Who is the team’s most valuable player so far?

A: Ignacio Piatti is usually their MVP, but he’s missed the last two games because of injury. I have to give it to veteran midfielder Patrice Bernier. The Impact’s captain is in his final season, but he’s looked very good in the early going. They’ve allowed him to get forward a little bit more and he hasn’t disappointed. A lot of their attack has gone through him. He’s already picked up four assists in 2017.

Q: Which player needs to improve?

A: I think midfielder Hernan Bernardello needs to give them a little bit more if he’s going to continue being a starter every week. Bernardello isn’t known for being able to create much offensively, but his defensive coverage hasn’t been great either this season. He seems to be a step or two behind the play fairly often, and with Adrian Arregui now in the fold, he could find himself outside the starting 11 if he doesn’t find his game.

Q: What is the key matchup in Saturday’s game?

A: Assuming Piatti plays and lines up on the left side of the midfield, I’d say the matchup between he and Tyrone Mears will be interesting. Piatti is lethal in one v. one situations, so we’ll see how he responds in his first game back from injury.