Unlucky. On the doorstep. So close yet so far away. These are the words that come to mind following the Impact's 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake. Just like any other pro athlete or team that has been on the cusp of a record or milestone, the Impact are inching closer and closer to that elusive first franchise victory in the MLS.
Jesse Marsch's men, from goalkeeper to midfield, played their strongest game to date against a team that is (arguably) the favorite to win the MLS Cup.
Donovan Ricketts not only had a bounce back game but he sent a strong message to the rest of his team that the last outing was an anomaly and that he can be trusted between the sticks. Ricketts controlled his back line like an army general as the Impact's defense was able to neutralize the RSL attack on a regular basis. His reactions were on point as he silenced all critics when he was forced to make a couple of last second saves that kept his squad in the game. Look for one or two of them to come back as candidates for "MLS Save of the Week".
Josh Gardner and Matteo Ferrari helped out the newly formed defensive line with their usual rugged, reliable and no non-sense style of play. Anyone who still doubts what Ferrari brings to the team has clearly not been watching his play. He's calm, physical and never gets rattled... all the qualities you need from an elite centre back.
More after the jump
Jeb Brovsky and Shavar Thomas need to go to a local pharmacy and buy Jesse Marsch some Tylenol and Advil. With Zarek Valentin back in Montreal, Brovsky returned to the lineup (after his 1 game ban) and put in another solid display. While not spectacular, he provided basic and reliable play. In an expansion year where the team takes longer to gel, his play-it-safe attitude is exactly what this back line needs. Tyson Wahl, on the other hand, was given a one day rest, perhaps so he can be fresh for Saturday's tilt against TFC, and it may end up costing him his regular role. The man who took his place is Shavar Thomas, a late addition to the training camp who has been brought along slowly so he could catch. Well, he's caught up! Thomas and Ferrari formed a great duo against one of the MLS' best offenses as they shut down passing plays and shooting angles all game long. Thomas offered a more physical presence than Wahl which allowed the midfield to have the confidence to not constantly look over their shoulder. Wahl, a natural left back, may soon be on the bench a little more often than he'd like if Shavar is given another opportunity is shine.
In the midfield, Justin Mapp continued his fine play with his excellent pace, ball distribution and always attacking tempo. His ability to flow through every position in the midfield and attack any temporary weakness that the opponent shows continues to open up the field and will be a true asset once the offense finds its rhythm.
Patrice Bernier was given a day off so in came Collen Warner. Warner was a great revelation during this game in central midfield. Unlike Bernier, who is more of a holding/defensive midfield player, Wallace was more of a 2 way threat. His physical play and quickness allowed for quality counter attacks that unfortunately went silent in the last third of the field. Defensively, he was a ball hawk and was never caught out of position coming while coming back to help defend Ricketts' net.
Lamar Neagle earned his first start against RSL after impressing with the reserve squad. His performance showed promise but also proved that he's not had much playing time with the first team. Out of 10, one would rate his performance as a 5.5. He wasn't spectacular but he did his job and never put his team in danger. All in all, it was a positive showing for the former Sounders FC player who, with more playing time, could become a force within the starting XI.
Captain Davy Arnaud had the same type of game as Neagle. Starting off as a forward and shifting back to midfield, Arnaud never had a set position on the field and therefore was never able to really contribute to the game. There is no doubt in my mind that this will show up in the game tape and that Marsch will put an end to the positional musical chairs that Davy has been playing during the last few games.
The NOT SO GOOD
Someone needs to put file a missing person's report with the police because the real Felipe was not on the field against RSL. He was an impostor. Ever since he was called for the penalty against Columbus, he's been silent. Felipe lacked that extra gear and the fiery temper that earned him a spot on the "MLS team of the week" earlier in the season. With his lack of creativity and poor ball distribution, it may be his turn to watch a game from the bench in order to refocus.
Justin Braun seems to be everyone's new whipping boy when it comes to the lack of offensive production from the Impact. Unfortunately for him, they may be right. Braun spent most of the game in a midfield position making it appear as if the Impact were playing a 4-6 instead of a 4-4-1-1. Often out of position, all counter attacks started by his own teammates fizzled out quickly as he wasn't able to provide a consistent target. He had an awful first touch on the ball, turning it over constantly and his poor overall effort is the reason why the Impact failed to find the back of the net.
To top it all off, it was Braun's careless handball in his defensive box that lead to the penalty that was awarded to RSL allowing them to score their only goal. Unfortunately, this is a homecoming that he'll want to quickly forget as he was the man of the match offensively and defensively... but for the wrong team.
The UNRATED - Too little too late?
Andrew Wenger, Bernardo Corradi and Sanna Nyassi were all subs in the 2nd half. However, since they came into the game late, they were unable to really provide any real spark. For a team that is still learning to play together, these substitutions may need to be done earlier in the game and at the same time, allowing the new players to get the necessary touches to get into the flow of the game.
The Impact deserved better. They may have even deserved the full three points. It is becoming more and more evident that the team has trust issues with Braun as their striker as he is simply not capable of providing the offensive muscle to get the Impact on the board with regularity. When analyzing a team, you must look at what every player does well and where they hinder the team. In this case, Braun failed to remain up top and be a consistent target while often giving the ball away. Also, by going out of position and dropping into the midfield, he'd slow down the pace of the game as his presence would take away space from his own teammates. In order for the Impact to start scoring and taking points away from opponents they will have to play EXACTLY the way they did against RSL... just with a better striking option up top. Fucito? Corradi? Wenger? Sebrango? Montano? Di Vaio? Mutu? Del Piero?
Until next time Impact fans,