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Ignacio Piatti has been the face of the Montreal Impact since bursting onto the scene during the club's run to the 2016 Eastern Conference finals, but the Piatti era - along with a championship window - could soon be coming to a close.
The Impact visit San Jose on Saturday hoping to begin a run to the MLS Cup in what could be the star midfielder's final season, while Earthquakes star Chris Wondolowski will be trying to tie the league's all-time scoring mark.
Piatti tied for third in the MLS with 17 goals and scored four more times in five playoff matches in 2016. He would go on to lead the Impact with 17 tallies in 2017 and 16 more last season, becoming the Impact's all-time leader in goals (63) and assists (33). Piatti has made three All-Star teams while leading Montreal to two postseasons over his four full seasons.
The Argentine told the league's website in December that he's likely to move on after this season, though he more recently told TVA Sports that he's open to staying in Montreal after his contract expires at the end of this year.
"I've been in Montreal for five years and over the years, this city has become my home," Piatti said. "I want to get back to my family and take care of my (ill) father, but (if he's doing well) at the end of the season, I will stay in Quebec."
In an effort to end a two-year playoff drought and help Piatti win an MLS Cup before the possible end of an era, Montreal made a big move by acquiring Maxi Urruti from FC Dallas in December. Including the postseason, the 27-year-old forward has totaled 30 goals and 20 assists over the past three seasons.
The Impact also picked up French winger Harry Novillo and signed striker Orji Okwonkwo on loan from Bologna, while standout midfielder Saphir Taider returns to a club that went 11-6-4 after June 2. Mathieu Choinière is likely to take on a greater role after defender Ken Krolicki suffered a dislocated elbow and is expected to be out for at least six weeks.
After conceding just one goal in five preseason matches, the Impact hope to continue playing well defensively in a matchup with one of the top scorers in league history. Wondolowski, who says he isn't retiring any time soon, is set to begin his 11th season with the Quakes and 15th overall.
The 36-year-old longtime captain finished with double-digit goals (10) for the ninth year in a row last season and has a chance to make history Saturday as he sits just one shy of Landon Donovan's all-time MLS mark of 145.
"I'd love see him get the record and I'd love to pass him the ball to get the record," teammate Shea Salinas said.
Wondolowski would likely rather help San Jose turn things around after the club finished with a league-worst 21 points last season. There is plenty of optimism with the arrival of new head coach Matias Almeyda, a former Chivas coach and the 2018 CONCACAF Men's Coach of the Year.
San Jose should get a boost from the addition of defender Marcos Lopez from Peru's Sporting Cristal and former Boca winger Cristian Espinoza, who comes on loan from Villarreal. Daniel Vega was signed to contend for the goalkeeper job.
The Quakes' 1-0 win in Montreal's most recent visit to San Jose on March 4, 2017 is the club's only victory (1-4-2) over the Impact in seven all-time matchups.
Updated March 1, 2019