Marco Di Vaio sees the Montreal Impact’s home opener as the ideal time to get his first goal of the season.
The former Bologna striker and Montreal’s only designated player went without a goal as the Impact opened the Major League Soccer season with wins in Seattle and Portland.
They hope to make it three in a row as they return to Olympic Stadium to play host to Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon.
“I’d like to be better, I’d like to score some goals,” the 36-year-old Di Vaio said this week. “We won our games, so I’m happy for the team, but I’m not happy with myself because I’d like to have scored some goals. I’m working on that.”
The Impact under new coach Marco Schallibaum found other ways to score as they matched their total of away wins from last season in the first two games of the 2013 campaign.
Toronto FC (1-1-0) are also on a high coming off a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City in their home opener last Saturday. That handed a first win to their new coach Ryan Nelsen. TFC lost their season opener 1-0 in Vancouver.
“You never really enjoy it in this business because the next day’s another game, so we immediately have to focus on Montreal and they’re a very good team, extremely good team, obviously proving it with two away wins,” Nelsen said.
“So we’re going to get back to work in every area. But it’s good to get off the mark and it’s something to work on.”
Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw was the hero for TFC with two goals against Kansas City, which earned him MLS player of the week honours.
A crowd of about 38,000, including a record number of TFC supporters, are expected at the Big O for the clash of natural rivals. There were 5,000 tickets allotted for Toronto supporters and at least 4,200 Reds fans are expected, which would shatter their own record of 2,800 travelling supporters set in 2008 in Columbus.
The rivalry went mostly Toronto’s way last season, even if Montreal posted its first MLS win against the Reds with a 2-1 victory last April 7.
Toronto beat Montreal in their first-round Canadian Championship series and handed the Impact their worst home loss of the regular season, 3-0, on June 27. The teams played to a 0-0 draw in Toronto on Oct. 20.
TFC finished last in the league in 2012, but have made major personnel changes. Montreal midfielder Patrice Bernier said they can’t be taken lightly.
“It doesn’t really change with Toronto, there’s a lot of new faces every year,” he said. “But it’s a different team, a different energy.
“They won their last game so they’ll be coming here with confidence, also knowing they did well against us last year. So it’s a good team to be meeting for our first home game. There’s always a little bad blood between Toronto and Montreal.”
Last year’s home opener was played in a party atmosphere, as the expansion Impact drew 1-1 with Chicago and captain Davy Arnaud scored the team’s first MLS goal before 58,912 at the Big O.
“It gave me chills walking out in front of all these fans,” defender Jeb Brovsky recalled. “It made you feel like a gladiator in the Coliseum.
“I only hope we can match that this year. When that first goal goes in, that’s a special moment.”
Ticket sales were limited this time, and there’s a strong chance of a sellout. Montreal will play a second game at the domed stadium next week against New York before moving outdoors to Saputo Stadium.
A clash of styles will be on display, as TFC under a New Zealand coach brought in from England, with several British players, goes up against a team with a heavy Italian flavour and a multi-lingual Swiss bench boss.
Di Vaio and former AC Milan star defender Alessandro Nesta are among seven Italian-speaking players on the Impact.
Nelsen isn’t buying that line, however.
“We’re a Toronto-style team,” he said. “I base it on the Toronto character.
“It’s a hard-working city but with a bit of creativity in it as well, and that’s how I like my players.”
The Impact will also need to adjust to being the hunters instead of the hunted. On their west coast trip, Montreal was dominated in possession but the defence held and they scored on counterattacks.
As the home side, they hope to establish Schallibaum’s ball-control game and go on attack.
“We want to be better at keeping the ball and creating set-up attacks, not counter-attacks, which was our strength in the two away games,” said Bernier. “We’re at home and we want to dictate the play.”
A boost could come from Argentine newcomer Andres Romero, who set up a Felipe Martins goal in his first minute of MLS action in Portland when he substituted for Andrea Pisanu. Romero is likely to start on the right side of midfield against TFC, while quick-footed Sanna Nyassi should play on the left for a second week in place of the injured Justin Mapp.
Nelsen must decide whether to give goalie Stefan Frei the start after he looked fit working out this week with a protective shield over his surgically repaired nose. He may opt to use Joe Bendik another week.
Toronto midfielder Kyle Bekker and fullback Ashtone Morgan were named to Canada’s team for a friendly matches in Qatar next week against Japan and Belarus, but they will be in Montreal to face to face the Impact.