But still a lot of work to do as rightfully said by MLS veteran Shavar Thomas. As referee Jorge Gonzalez whistles the end of the game, a sigh of relief is heard from 18 players, a half-dozen coaching staff , 19223 fans and thousands of viewers. The Montreal took the lead, held off the Portland Timbers most of the game, had a clean sheet and hopefully took another step towards a higher level of consistency and efficiency.
A disappointing but expected crowd (earlier reports of ticket sales) of just under 20,000 fans witnessed the team's second consecutive home win ( 2-1 victory over Toronto FC) and probably saw one of the team's most complete game with efficiency, poise, control but not necessarily the most exciting. Still unbeaten at home (enough with those road trip blues), the team is getting better in different aspects that Jesse Marsch identified earlier in the season and we have seen the palpable tangible progress of a MLS expansion team.
Having spoken to a few Montreal Impact players, many have pointed out to the fact that his group of players is a strong group of players. Even for an expansion team, Collen Warner told me , during pre-season, pretty clearly that this is a strong of group of guys and they will surprise more than a few.
More after the jump....
Team unity and movement
This has been a true mark of this mark and it continues to prone for a solid defense that is able to mark players and play physically led by Matteo Ferrari. The defensive line is really bringing a lot as per defensive awareness (still far from being a top-tier defense), better positioning while still staying aggressive with preemptive '' attacks '' on Kris Boyd and Jorge Perlaza. The outside backs did a good job by staying solid with good passes down the wing and to the middle. Zarek Valentin is getting better and better after each game and tallied 55 successful passes and breaking up a few dangerous plays. Tyson Wahl is proving to be better suited at left back than a central defender (more of his natural position) and is a solid defensive asset on the left with good runs. Talking of good runs, note his excellent give and go with Lamar Neagle where he never stops running, creates gap between him and the Timbers player and creates the chance that gives a penalty kick to the Montreal Impact.
The link between defense and offense is yet again Felipe Martins and Collen Warner. The midfield duo generate the oxygen needed in the heart of the pitch as both alternate between defensive and offensive duties when needed and for a few times, both supported the attack as gaps were being seen between Portland`s midfield and defense. Justin Mapp did some damage on the left side (the most technical player on the team) challenging the Portland Timbers with smart dribbling and smart passing. He usually enjoys cutting to the middle and he did that a few times which created a few chances for the team.
The captain Davy Arnaud has finally settled in the right midfield position and going after the right back all game long with relentless running and smart runs. He has found a few times big gaps in the Timbers defense and had a few chances in the box and gave nice passes to and around the box. That one-time left-footed pass to Sinisa Ubiparipovic was perfect as it was far enough from the Timbers defense and not too close to the goalkeeper, clearing the way for a Sinisa tap in to seal the deal.
Sanna Nyassi was less efficient than usual and pretty quiet as per his previous games but still had good runs but did not combine enough with Bernardo Corradi. The Italian striker as not as present than previous games but the game was played a lot on the sides and Felipe/Warner went forward more than in previous games. Corradi still was very precious in his ball control, shielding the ball away and taking fouls in important situations to give a breather to the team.
The midfield pressing was extremely present and important in the success of the team. One of the key strengths of the Montreal Impact, expect Jesse Marsch to continue playing this way as to suffocate the opponent and take control of the game.
The Not So Good but Not So Bad
but could and will always need to be better: The number of dangerous chances vs efficiency .
The team has not been very efficient with a few point blank chances missed in the first half that would have seen the Impact take a comfortable 2-0 lead at the half. This should not put a cloud on the team`s good performances but it`s all about the process. Earlier in the season, Jesse Marsch talked about converting half chances to full chances and playing the ball quicker. This evolution has been seen and this transition seems to be part of a natural progression as we see the team play. This is good news as the margin of progress exists and in the same time, the team was able to learn in defeat and hardship. The betterment of the squad is a sign that players are buying into the program, the coaching staff know what they are doing and are able to manage a deep squad.
THE PRETTY UGLY
Sanna Nyassi's cleet in Troy Perkins' face
Very unfortunate incident where Nyassi streaks past a Portland Timbers' defender and tries to reach for the ball as Perkins challenges him for the ball at the edge of the 18-yard box. Sanna Nyassi misses the ball by inches but still opens up his foot and the unfortunate accident happened. I was surprised that Nyassi did not get a yellow card just for unintentional recklessness and we all hope that Troy Perkins' injury is not a serious one. The same for Steve Purdy who collided with Justin Mapp on aerial ball and seemed to have suffered a big knock and could not finish the game.