MONTREAL — As hot as Anthony Jackson-Hamel has been, the Quebec City striker does not appear likely to get his first start of the season when the Montreal Impact play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday afternoon.
Jackson-Hamel has scored three times in the Impact's last two games, both times as a second half substitute. It's a small sample size for sure, but his three goals in a total of 37 minutes of play has him on a pace of more than seven goals per 90-minute game.
Coach Mauro Biello now must decide whether to give him a start while he's hot or stick with what has been working and bring him in off the bench. The latter option sounds more likely for now.
"You have to be careful sometimes," Biello said this week. "I know the statistic is amazing, but we also have to consider his strengths, the game, the opposition and how he can help us.
"When the game is opened up you can see how Jackson can use his qualities with his speed and agressiveness. So that (going in as a substitute) becomes a good option for me, and if he's able to score it's a bonus. But for sure if he continues to score, it's going to push my hand to give him a start."
That suggests Matteo Mancuso will be in his familiar spot up front when the Impact (1-2-4), 10th in the MLS Eastern Conference, face the Whitecaps (2-4-1), ninth in the west, in a mid-afternoon contest in mild weather at Saputo Stadium. Montreal is 1-0-1 at home.
Vancouver, 0-3-0 on the road this season and 1-8-3 in MLS road games since last summer, is coming off a 2-1 defeat in Portland in which forward Freddy Montero notched his fourth goal of the season. The away record is deceiving, as the Whitecaps lost one of them in a snowstorm at Salt Lake and another when goalkeeper David Ousted was shown the red card while Vancouver was leading 2-0 in the 23rd minute in San Jose.
The Whitecaps have also been juggling league matches with CONCACAF Champions League play, in which they beat the New York Red Bulls in the quarter-finals before losing to Tigres of Mexico. The Impact had a 1-4-2 start when they did the same in 2015.
Biello is expecting a battle.
"Every game in this league is difficult," he said. "With the parity in the league, no team is going to bend over and say 'this game is yours.'
"It's a team that's hungry to get points. They're a Western Conference team and they might take a bit more risk to try to get the points and we have to be ready for that."
The teams will also get a look at one another before they meet in a two-game Voyageurs Cup semifinal in May.
The Impact hoped to pick up their first road win of the year last week in Philadephia, where the Union hadn't won in 14 games. But the home side jumped on them for a 3-0 lead before Ignacio Piatti got one back just before the intermission and Jackson-Hamel tied it with two in the second half.
Montreal has conceded the first goal in six of seven games this season. That may be partly to do with having a different back four every game, which will be the case again this week with defenders Hassoun Camara (concussion) and Victor Cabrera (high ankle sprain) both out.
"I don't want to make excuses," said Biello. "Its not ideal to have a constant rotation in the back four in terms and rhythm and cohesion.
"Sometimes it gets difficult, but we're a team of 28 players and when they're called upon to step into a role they need to execute."
Sophomore Kyle Fisher could step into the central defence alongside veteran Laurent Ciman, with Ambroise Oyongo and Chris Duvall as the fullbacks. Wandrille Lefevre is also available.
"We need everyone on the team," said Oyongo. "We just need everyone to be focused
"The season is just starting, so after we'll see what is the good defence (group) to play in games."
Oyongo may face fellow Cameroonian Tony Tchani, a Whitecaps midfielder, while 18-year-old midfield prodigy Ballou Tabla could go up against Vancouver's 16-year-old midfielder Alphonso Davies.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press