MAYDAY! MAYDAY! THE SHIP IS SINKING! WE'VE HIT AN ICEBERG! FAN OVERBOARD! FAN OVERBOARD!
Kind of feels like the Impact's season lately, doesn't it?
It seems as though a season filled with promise has come to a crashing halt.
Despite having won their first 2 games in impressive fashion at the new and improved Saputo Stadium against high powered opponents, the Impact have only gathered 6 of a possible 15 points in recent times.
Into this boiling pot of disappointing results, you need to add in the following ingredients:
- Two of the losses were via a score of 0-3 in which the Impact were not impressive at all
- Bernardo Corradi's season ending injury
- Injuries to: Matteo Ferrari, Nelson Rivas, Andrew Wenger & Justin Mapp
- A new DP, Marco Di Vaio, who needs to get into game shape and adapt to the MLS
- A one game suspension to Patrice Bernier
- An ineffective Donovan Ricketts
- A tweet from team owner/president Joey Saputo: ‘Absolute disgrace, enough said'
Things have gone so badly for this organisation in the last couple of weeks that a bus full of the team's fans, the Ultras, broke down on its way to DC and they were forced to miss the game and return home.
After you take all this into consideration, is there any hope left for the Impact this season? ABSOLUTELY!
Everyone needs to keep in mind that the expectations for this team were very low at the beginning of the season. Many said it would be a losing season, others just hoped that the team would be competitive. With the success that this team has enjoyed throughout this rollercoaster season, many seemed to forget that this is an expansion team led by a rookie head coach in Jesse Marsch.
More after the jump
While every team faces its ups and downs during a season (pretty sure that Houston and Seattle thought they'd come to Montreal to put on a Soccer clinic), an expansion team such as the Impact is supposed to suffer. An expansion team is supposed to lose. An expansion team is supposed to threaten to fire its coach for not showing any development. However, let's not forget that the man who is signing this team's paychecks isn't just your average Joe. Team owner Joey Saputo, as training camp went forward, had brought in some heavy hitters into the nucleus of this team. Joey has given Marsch all the tools necessary to taste early success. Two monsters in central defense in Matteo Ferrari and Nelson Rivas, a midfield maestro in Felipe, a midfield bulldog in local boy Patrice Bernier and a tone setting forward in Bernardo Corradi.
But, what happens when almost your entire core gets hurt? Imagine Barcelona without Puyol, Pique, Xavi, Fabregas and Messi. Imagine Juventus without Chiellini, Pirlo, Marchisio, Vidal and Buffon. Imagine Real Madrid without Ronaldo, Ozil, Benzema, Khedira and Ramos. That's right. It's simple. The hopes of a championship begin to fade. Look at the injury list mentioned above for the Impact and it is easy to see why this team is struggling lately.
Taking a look at the standings, the Impact sit in 8th place and only 5 points out of a playoff spot. They have played more games than the teams they are chasing (Houston, Columbus, New England and Philadelphia) but, from now until the end of the season, they face each of those teams twice. That is called being masters of your own destiny.
Time is starting to become an enemy. Jesse Marsch needs to find the right formula and get this team rolling again and quickly. Here's what needs to happen:
Getting Di Vaio into game shape and building chemistry with a soon to be healthy Wenger will unlock the offense. This should also signal the moving of Sanna Nyassi from the starting XI to the bench. He now becomes a great change of pace style supporting forward who can come on to replace or add to the attack when the Impact need to change things up. The biggest question here is depth. Justin Braun and Eduardo Sebrango have not shown enough to merit playing time and Miguel Montano seems to be an afterthought in recent times following his issue with Montreal's transit system. Ideally, the Impact need a fourth reliable option. There is Davy Arnaud but he is more suited in a midfield role. Outside help may be required.
Getting the offense going is key to having better ball control and possession, removing pressure from the defense and midfielders.
One word: SERVICE
Two more words: BALL DISTRIBUTION
Having Di Vaio and Wenger up top is completely useless if the midfielders aren't distributing the ball with enough consistency. Felipe playing right behind both forwards in a ‘trequartista' set up role should definitely help create more consistent threats. Davy Arnaud is the heart and soul of this team and fills in all over the field. Patrice Bernier needs to continue his great form of late. The fourth midfielder role will be filled by Collen Warner, Justin Mapp, Lamar Neagle or Hassoun Camara. The choice will depend on fitness, the opponent and role required. Sinisa Ubiparipovic will take a backseat to this group but will still remain in the mix as it is expected that Camara will play in a central defensive role for most of the season.
SOS!! SOS!! SOS!!
The loss of Matteo Ferrari and Nelson Rivas are HUGE! These two guys dominated the central defensive area and although Shavar Thomas and Hassoun Camara are good, they are not the same caliber. Zarek Valentin is firmly entrenched as the team's starting right back and Jeb Brovsky seems to have the left side locked down. One has to wonder if we will see Josh Gardner back in the lineup before the end of the season. Gardner would be an upgrade offensively over Brovsky with his great crosses but he would be a slight downgrade defensively. They could easily platoon based on role needed and the opponent. Tyson Wahl remains a bench player/spot starter and should not be used otherwise. It will be interesting to see if Jesse Marsch will use Karl Ouimette from now until the end of the season.
Aside from personnel, the main concern of this team is SET PIECE DEFENCE. This has easily been the Achilles' heel of the Impact defense this season. If it doesn't improve quickly, the chances of making the playoffs will fade quickly.
The debate has now begun. Has much has Donovan Ricketts' has been able to be a stud at times, he's also looked like the ultimate dud at other times. The horrible game he had against TFC was the final straw for Joey Saputo and Jesse Marsch. Despite getting shelled in his first MLS start, look for Evan Bush to eat into Ricketts' minutes and potentially takeover the starting role. Last year's NASL keeper of the year is the man of the future between the sticks and the future could be now. Greg Sutton will remain third choice keeper.
The playoffs are still well within reach. The Impact are the masters of their own destiny. With a little luck, some health and continued progression, this team just may be putting on their dancing shoes for the post season dance. As well all know, once you get to the dance, whether you are the most popular guy there or not, you can still get the girl.
Like Bon Jovi's song goes... YOU GOTTA KEEP THE FAITH!!
Focus on the positive, don't give up on your team. In fact, you should download Keep the Faith and blast it in your car or iPod every time you come to Stade Saputo for a game. The Impact should play this song before and after every game. Support your team. Go to the Stadium. Allow yourself to believe!
Until next time,
PS: Lord we gotta KEEP THE FAITH!!