Let's be honest, last week's 2-2 draw in the opening match of the CCL quarter finals at Estadio Hidalgo in Mexico was HUGE! As fans, it's easy to look back at that game and feel like the team dropped the ball after going up 2-0, but let's face it, not very many people out there thought the club would come back with a favorable result.
Leading up to the game, everyone kept talking about the altitude, and the fact that Pachuca has already played quite a few league games, while the Impact had yet to play a meaningful game. Having two away goals in the bank heading into the final leg is very important, giving the club a big advantage.
I must give the club credit, for starting the preseason when they did and going down to Mexico a couple weeks in advance to continue their preparation. I thought it was a great idea that the club arranged friendlies against other Mexican sides rather than fellow MLS clubs.
Although it can be debated whether Cruz Azul used an A, B or C roster, the fact remains that most Mexican sides are skilled on the ball and play a faster, attacking style that is not always seen with MLS clubs. I am sure that the way Pachuca played was no surprise to the Impact, and part of the reason was because of the homework and preparations the club did in advance.
In my previous article "Gameplan vs Pachuca", I highlighted three areas that I felt the club would want to focus on in that opening match. Although the team was not able to keep a clean sheet, they kept their composure enough, to come away with a tie. Discipline, was another area that was important, and with the exception of a few instances I felt that the team succeeded in that area.
The back four were relatively clean in their challenges, and didn't give the referee any chance at calling a game changing penalty that so often occurs in Mexico and other Central American countries.
The club combined for 9 blocked shots, which shows me that everyone was fully committed to the task at hand. Lastly, with Dilly Duka finding the back of the net twice and Ignacio Piatti, Dominic Oduro, and Justin Mapp, all having had decent looks on net, it will definitely give the team confidence, knowing Pachuca are not invincible, and were it not for a couple of breakdowns, they could have very well come away with a victory.
With the Impact so close to making club history by booking a first ever appearance in the semi-finals of the Concacaf Champions League, the question begs, should Frank Klopas make changes to the game plan for Tuesday night's final leg?
I believe the team will look to have more of the ball this time around. Giving Pachuca that much possession could be a disaster for the home side. I would not want the visitors to feel comfortable at all, however, with the success that the club had on the counter attack, and knowing Pachuca needs to score goals to have any chance at progressing is it really worth taking the risk and going on an all-out mission to win the match and book that semi-final spot?
I mentioned earlier that I thought the team did well discipline wise, and I meant it, however, I really did not like the cautions that Hassoun Camara and Piatti picked up. On another night, warranted or not, both could have seen a red, and that would have really hurt the team's chances in the series let alone the match.
Personally I am not sure what is worse, going with Cabrera, or Camara at RB. I will admit, I don't know if it was fatigue or injury that forced Cabrera off (I thought maybe cramps) but he was clearly out of position on that tying goal. He didn't close down the space between himself and the winger had and paid the price.
Klopas is also to blame because he should have seen the signs on Cabrera and reacted quicker. Camara was on the field all of 9 minutes when he went in with his rash challenge. I like his willingness to add to the attack, but honestly if he can't make it through a match without picking up cards, he is better off on the bench. There was no reason whatsoever to make that challenge.
Klopas has a big decision to make on Tuesday night, should he go with Cabrera who clearly lost a couple of steps early in the second half or does he gamble that Camara can play more composed? It was Toia side that was supposed to be the question mark heading into the season but I found him to be very comfortable in his role.
If Romero is fit does Klopas tinker with the lineup and bring him in, likely sitting either Mapp or Duka? Does our beloved captain find his way back into the starting lineup? If so who comes out, Donadel or Reo-Coker? Does either one deserve to be shown the bench after the fist leg?
Then of course there is Dominic Oduro, who although he didn't score, his pace clearly had Pachuca concerned. Had it not been for some heavy touches he could have found his name on the score sheet also. His little dummy run gave Duka just enough time and space on the opening goal.
With rookie Cameron Porter coming in as a late sub, has Klopas given up on Jack McInerney or did he just want to see what the youngster could do in a pressure situation? Does Jack Mac get the start or does Oduro get another chance to redeem himself?
Luckily for me, I don't have to be the one to make these tough choices, but I do look forward to seeing how the coaching staff does handle the lineup and the game plan.
As of Monday afternoon there are 30,000 tickets sold, safe to say the buzz is back, now it's time to build on it! A place in the semi-final could set the stage for the Impact to set another attendance record at the Big O!
Lets go Impact, take care of business against Pachuca! Marquonslhistoire!