In the words of the Entourage's Johnny Drama: "VICTORYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!"
After a season start that has been marked with a couple of controversial refereeing decisions and a few "Oh so close" moments, arch rivals TFC came to town and it proved to be just what the doctor ordered to get the season back on track as the Impact earned their first ever win, taking round 1 of the "401 Derby" by a score of 2-1.
Playing their third game in seven days, Jesse Marsch decided to test his team's depth by making several choices, including a controversial one. Local boy Patrice Bernier was held out for a second game in favor of Collen Warner, who impressed in the Impact's last tilt against RSL. Many fans and media tried to make something of it but at the end of the day, Marsch is the boss, he puts winning ahead of everything and did what he felt is best. Others out of the regular lineup were Josh Gardner, Justin Braun, Justin Mapp, Davy Arnaud and Jeb Brovsky. To replace them, the bench boss called in Collen Warner, Bernardo Corradi, Lamar Neagle, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Shavar Thomas and Zarek Valentin.
There are a lot of positives that came out of this game aside from the victory. All 14 men used by Marsch played a good game as a unit. They were able to dominate possession time, dictate the flow of the game and gave very little for TFC to build on.
Donovan Ricketts put in a 2nd great performance in a row. He did come up huge a few times with some great saves but for the most part ensured that his defensive mates knew exactly where they needed to be. The Ferrari and Thomas central defensive pairing showed everyone again why they should be on the field together as they clogged up the middle effectively, displaying great communication and a greater physical play than we've seen from the Ferrari/Wahl partnership earlier on in the season. Most threats were shut down with ease. Speaking of Tyson Wahl, he moved over to his natural left back position, while Gardner had a day off to rest, and played as if he'd been the starting left back from day 1. Zarek Valentin redeemed himself in his 2nd start of the season, following his poor debut shortly after the US U23 team was eliminated from Olympic qualification, putting in a strong 90 minutes of decisive, strong, shut down defense.
Felipe kept his place in the starting XI despite a couple of lacklustre performances and repaid Marsch for keeping trust in him. Although he was not flashy or feisty, he created a mighty central midfield pairing with Warner that controlled the tempo offensively but also killed most of the TFC's counter attacks. Neagle continues to earn Marsch's trust as he put in another workman like performance. Just like Mapp in previous games, his role was to shift throughout the midfield, creating plays from different locations. He was able to unleash a couple of dangerous shots but his best play led to the first goal of the game when he set up an open Ubiparipovic with a pass that was not perfect, but placed well enough for "Ubi" to fire it past Kocic. Ubi, who earned his first start of the season, was playing a more advanced midfield role and continued his fantastic play from last year's NASL squad as he distributed the ball very well to his teammates, setting up several scoring chances.
Corradi and Nyassi, aka "Thunder and Lightning", gave the TFC headaches all day long. Corradi's intelligence, passing and ability to shield the ball allowed Nyassi to use his speed to burn through the TFC defense and create several chances. Unfortunately, the duo was not able to produce, despite Nyassi coming close to earning a PK when he was fouled at full speed a few inches outside of the box.
Jesse Marsch used all 3 of his substitutions again in this game as Mapp, Wenger and Arnaud were all inserted into the game within the final 25 minutes. Mapp took over for Ubiparipovic, exhausted and not yet a full 90 minute match fit, and picked up where the Serbian left off. He created multiple chances, held the defense on its heels. Wenger came in for Corradi and changed the offensive philosophy for the Impact, forming a more fluid and athletic duo with Nyassi which led to the rookie notching his first ever MLS goal. Finally, Arnaud came on for Nyassi in the final minutes to help boost the defensive side of the ball and preserve the lead until the final whistle.
TFC's Logan Emory was ejected in the 65th minute of the game for a bad tackle on Nyassi just outside the box, allowing the Impact a 1 man advantage for the final 25 minutes. Despite scoring a 2nd goal during that time, the Impact were unable to find that extra gear to truly put their opponents away. In fact, during the entire 2nd half, the Impact's ball control and distribution was effective but not as productive as the first 45. Although they still controlled the tempo of the game, they began to allow too many chances which led to Danny Koevermans' late goal to bring TFC within a goal.
In a game where the Impact controlled possession and tempo, it is almost unjust to write something in this category. However, as this team continues to develop into a true unit and play together, they MUST improve on their killer instinct. The home town squad allowed their arch rivals to just hang around a little too long. There was never a full sense of comfort as they lead the game. Let's not forget that TFC is struggling mightily this year and they did not have what it takes to properly counter attack or generate a proper offense.
If the Impact would have been playing the Sounders or any other high octane offensive team, they may have only come away with one point or worse. The reasoning behind this is simply because, as we all know, in 90 minutes, you only need 2-3 chances to punish your opponent.
The first win is in the bag. It came against a rival. They sent the visiting fans home crying and they showed progress. What more could a fan ask for?
This was only game number 6 for this young squad. Marsch continues to tinker with his lineup in order to find the right mix to have a shot at winning every night. It's like baking a cake. You need to put the right amount of each ingredient together to make it taste just right. There was no way, with all the variables, that the Impact could have fielded the best starting XI possible. The evolution is continuing. Seeing who fits where, who works best with who. This team continues to progress with every game it plays. Thierry Henry said that this team can become very dangerous, our boys in blue would like nothing better than to prove him right!
Impact fans, celebrate the win, enjoy it, there are many more where this one came from. But, one little word of advice: RELAX (Sound familiar?) We're only 6 games in. Jesse Marsch is not getting fired, he is not under additional pressure. He is building his team. It takes time. Have faith. Never lose faith. Don't look for problems where there are none!
Until next time fans,
Jesse Marsch's postgame comments (thank you to the Montreal Impact for video feed)