MONTREAL — No Ignacio Piatti. No Laurent Ciman. No chance for the Montreal Impact?
Injuries to arguably their two best players will make life difficult for the Impact (0-1-2) when they visit Chicago on Saturday, with the Fire (1-1-1) roaring over the arrival this week of star midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. The German is not expected to start but who may go in as a substitute.
Piatti is to miss 10 days to two weeks with a groin injury while Ciman was ruled out of the game when he returned from international duty with Belgium nursing what is believed to be a minor knee ailment.
Team captain Patrice Bernier, with three assists in as many games, may start on the bench due to a calf injury.
"Of course we prefer playing with those guys because they bring a lot of experience," said defender Hassoun Camara. "But during the season, we have to deal with these problems and fix them with the group that we have.
"We have very good players who are ready to bring something to the team and Saturday is going to be a very good occasion to show it."
Piatti, the team's player of the year the last two seasons, is the key piece in the attack. With Andres Romero still out with a hamstring problem, the job may go to promising 18-year-old Ballou Tabla, although coach Mauro Biello is also considering second-year forward Michael Salazar.
"To me, Nacho (Piatti) is maybe the best number 10 in the league so, without him, the animation is very different," said Camara. "He's not here, unfortunately, but I feel that players like Ballou can bring something to the team.
"We don't have to put pressure on him. We're here to help him and protect him so he can bring all his quality. If he doesn't do it, it will be our fault. As older players, we're here to give him the best conditions to express himself. If it isn't this game, it'll be the next or the next after that. He has a lot of potential."
The Impact got a scare this week when left back Ambroise Oyongo was stranded in Brussels without a plane ticket by the Cameroon national team. He got back only on Thursday, but it appears he will be ready to play.
With Ciman out, Camara will likely move into the central defence with Victor Cabrera, with Oyongo and Chris Duvall as fullbacks.
New comer Adrian Arregui will likely start in Bernier's spot in the central defence with Marco Donadel and Hernan Bernardello, with Matteo Mancosu and Dominic Oduro in their usual spots up front.
Picking up their first win of the season won't be easy against a Chicago team that made several changes to the one that finished last in Major League Soccer the last two seasons.
But the Fire are coming off a shock 4-0 defeat to expansion Atlanta on March 18 and will be playing without centreback Johan Kappelhof, who was shown a red card and will serve a one-game suspension. Jonathan Campbell is expected to replace him.
Any gloom over the loss was overtaken by the arrival of 32-year-old Schweinsteiger, the former Germany captain and Bayern Munich stalwart who was let go in the middle of his second season with Manchester United, where he had fallen out of favour with coach Jose Mourinho.
About 500 fans greeted Schweinsteiger and his wife, former tennis No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, when they landed on Wednesday.
"They're definitely a better team," Biello said of the Fire. "Now the acquisition of Schweinsteiger brings up the morale in the group, so we need to be ready for everything.
"Having some players out of the lineup will give an opportunity to some of the others to show what they've got. It'll be a big test for our depth."
Schweinsteiger's greeting was reminiscent of Didier Drogba's arrival in Montreal in 2015, but it remains to be seen if the German has the immediate impact of the former Chelsea star who had 11 goals in his first 11 MLS games.
Biello wants his team to ignore the distraction.
"You've got to be focused on the task and not get pulled away by things you can't control in terms of the crowd and in terms of an opposing player," he said. "We all have responsibilities on the field. We've got to take it as another game and be ready for whatever player we need to face."
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press