As I was watching the game last night at the Olympic Stadium I turned to my friend and said, "This is probably the best performance I've seen from the Impact in about 2 years, or maybe ever." To be honest, as I begin to write this article, I think it might be closer to the latter, and that's no joke.
My favorite moment of the game was actually a stretch of two minutes (84th-86th minute), where the Impact strung together 33 consecutive passes. It was utterly demoralizing for the opposition, and showcased the kind of confidence a team can build throughout the course of a match. It was beautiful to watch!
From top to bottom, I can't remember a game where they so dominated the opposition. For a Costa Rican side that is known for its offense, I counted one clear-cut scoring chance in the entire contest: a Toia skewed header in the box that ended up on the head of an Alajuelense player who put it wide.
And that's all she wrote. (No, that shot that Bush saved that went off a Ciman's head earlier in the half was not that great of a chance).
Offensively speaking, the Impact created maybe as many as ten chances (I lost count), many of which were created off of excellently worked counter attacks. I thought the way that the first goal unfolded, perfectly encapsulated the entire match.
With Alajuelense scrambling to get the ball out of danger and up the pitch, Cabrera won the ball back with an aggressive header, which began a mini-counter. The ball got out wide to Oduro, and then a funny thing happened...
He did everything right! Took his player on, beat him for pace, and made - what I think is the Impact's best cross of the season - an inch perfect, against-the- grain pass to Porter, who instead of trying to do too much with it, expertly back-heeled it over to Piatti who completed the perfect movement, with a perfect finish.
Effort, desire, creativity and execution. That was the Impact in a nutshell last night.
Coach: Frank Klopas/Mauro Biello - 8/10
From the lineup to the substitutions, it was a bang-up job by the coaching staff last night. I also felt the team was prepared extremely well for the match. There was definitely an emphasis made on not rushing attacking movements, and I think it paid dividends. The Impact had much better possession than in either game against Pachuca, and were extremely aggressive in winning balls back.
K: Evan Bush - 7.5/10
Didn't have much to do, but did the little things much better than usual I found. Was aggressive getting after aerials in the box, and was quite efficient in his goal kicks and throws. It did help that Porter was outstanding at holding onto and winning possession on those goal kicks, but still, Bush's accuracy was spot on.
CB: Laurent Ciman - 8/10
I thought Ciman was back to his confident self in this match. Had a bit of a shaky start in the first minute or so when he misjudged a header in the box, but was overall very cool and collected in front of Bush. Made a number of key clearances and didn't make any panic plays in the box. Maybe got a bit too aggressive on a couple of tackles that put him out of position, but I think we're starting to see that this is generally just his style of play. His backline mates know this, and are usually well placed whenever he goes for a marauding run or tackle.
CB: Bakary Soumare - 8.5/10
Soumare played his role of garbage man to perfection last night. Any little mistakes his teammates made in front of him he took care of with ease. Had a momentary lapse of judgment on the yellow card, but besides that, there was nary a false note in his performance.
LB: Donny Toia - 7.5/10
Toia is turning into a real find for the Impact. Considering that fullback has not been one of IMFC's strongest positions since entering the MLS, Toia looks like one of the best left backs they've ever had. Like most of the young guys on the team, his work rate is exceptional and does a great job positionally. There's a reason why he always seems to be in the right spot to head away balls in dangerous areas.
RB: Victor Cabrera 9/10
When the game began I was worried when I saw Cabrera's name in the starting XI. Who could blame me? He was beaten for pace time and again against Pachuca. Clearly the Impact did their homework though, because Cabrera made minced meat of the Alajuelense attack down the left flank. Cabrera's biggest strengths are tackling and heading the ball, and he did a lot of that last night. Oh and by the way he scored a goal. NO BIG DEAL.
DM: Nigel Reo-Coker 7.5/10
Funny how everyone is talking about how hard it is to play on artificial turf, but nobody really made mention of how brutal D.C. United's barely playable pitch was a week and a half ago. I'm sure Reo-Coker can attest to that because he was completely rejuvenated on the Big O's field. His passes were crisp, he was stronger on the ball, and just overall was a calming influence in the midfield.
DM: Marco Donadel - 7.5/10
A lot of people are saying Donadel didn't have a good game. I don't know what they're smoking, but it must be some pretty good stuff. Not only did he play well, but I'd say it was his best showing for the Impact to date. Maybe fans who were watching on TV took what Lloyd Barker said in the first 10 minutes a bit too much to heart. Yes he was slow on his coverage and took a couple of fouls. But that was literally it. He spent the next 50 or so minutes breaking up plays, expertly starting counter attacks, and just generally outworking the opposition's midfielders. I even thought he looked his strongest in the last ten minutes before coming off.
LM: Dilly Duka 6.5/10
Probably the least effective player for the Impact last night. That said, he was playing with a knock so you can't really fault him too much. He didn't do anything wrong per say, he just wasn't as energetic or creative as we've him seen this year.
CAM: Ignacio Piatti - 9/10
My man of the match. Just a stellar outing for the Argentinian, and it couldn't have come at a better time. His creativity and skill on the ball gave his teammates - especially Porter and Oduro - the confidence they needed to push forward with a purpose. His take and finish on the goal was clinical. It was a great example of how to score goals without an out and out striker on the pitch. Hopefully he'll stay healthy and continue to produce performances like this all season long.
RM: Dominic Oduro 7.5/10
By far Oduro's best outing of the year. Aside from a fantastic pass on the opening goal, Oduro's first touch was much better last night, and he played with the kind of aggression that you want to see out of a speedy winger. The Alajuelense backline were nervous whenever he got the ball in open space because he attacked them. I thought he also showed some creativity on the ball which is encouraging.
Striker: Cameron Porter - 8.5/10
If not for Piatti's masterclass, Porter would have been my MOTM last night. I can't say enough good things about this kid. Work rate? Check. Holding up the ball? Check. Passing and creativity? Check and check. I don't see how Klopas keeps him out of the starting lineup against New England, he just offers way too much to the club at the moment.
CM: Calum Mallace - 7/10
Nothing flashy from Mallace here, just came in and did his job to a tee. Didn't make any glaring errors on the ball, and was rarely, if ever, caught out of position defensively.
LW: Maxime Tissot - 7/10
Solid first game for the young Quebecer. Came on at halftime for Dilly Duka, and did a really good job of helping neutralize the Alajuelense attack down the right side. I was also impressed with his confidence and strength on the ball, as he managed to magically skirt past defenders on a couple of occasions. His crosses weren't the best, but he more than made up for them with his strong work ethic and desire.
CM: Patrice Bernier - 6/10
Came in late for Piatti, and wasn't really implicated much in the play. Did his job well enough in controlling and distributing the ball, but too small a sample size maybe to really take much away from his performance.