Issues in the box
It seems like the Impact do everything right defensively except maybe the most important thing, which is man marking in the box. We saw it against FC América, and we saw it once again on the first goal against the Timbers. I feel like it's a mixture of over-eagerness to push the ball up field on a counter, with a general lack of commitment to keep defending aggressively.
On the Timbers' opening goal, the ball gets headed about in the box, and only two Impact players, Reo-Coker and Soumare, are anywhere near the ball when it gets headed in to the goal. When the ball goes in, four Timber players are closer to the ball than any two Impact players. Montréal needs to do a better job of consolidating a defensive clearance, before pushing like mad up the pitch.
The 4-4-2 is delivering results
The Impact delivered a fairly stagnating offensive performance in the first half. There were some decent movement at times, and they did draw a fair number of corners and a couple of free kicks around the box. Still, they were unable to create any real danger in the final third, and barely troubled the Portland keeper.
Once Portland broke through in the 64' minute mark, Oduro was brought on soon after, and the Impact scored almost immediately. The goal, scored by Oduro, was the result of an excellent dribble by the freshly subbed in Alexander (playing DM/CM), who got the ball out wide to the left to Piatti (switched to LM/Wing), who worked it beautifully back to Alexander in the box who rifled in a shot. The shot was saved, but Oduro (playing up top as a second striker) was johnny on the spot to slot home for the goal.
All the moves made by Klopas (see bracketed remarks) resulted in the Impact scoring an excellently worked goal. Most importantly, perhaps, is that Oduro is waiting in the box to slot home the rebound. If the Impact had still been playing with one striker, he probably would not have been there.
I assumed that the Impact would keep the 4-2-3-1 formation once again for this match, and I was not wrong. There's clearly still a belief in the coaching staff that this is the right formation for the team, because it got them all the way to the CCL finale.
I disagree. What got them to the final was incredible play by the backline, along with some timely goals mixed in. The five-midfielder approach did not garner any real advantage in my opinion. They did not score goals on the counter, and rarely were they ever able to make good use of whoever was the lone striker.
If they're worried that they will be less defensively sound with four midfielders instead of five, I firmly believe they are mistaken. The Impact have rarely given up goals this year that resulted from a breakdown in midfield. Their biggest problem has been man-marking in the box and set-piece defense in general. Playing either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 shouldn't have any effect on these issues.
If anything, at 0-2-3, it's a worth a shot to change things up.
Coach: Frank Klopas - 5/10
It's hard to know whom to blame for this latest defeat. It's not like the Impact played badly, but they just consistently find a way to lose, which has to, on some degree, be on the coach. If Klopas doesn't figure out how to get the offense clicking soon (by way of personnel or formation change) this team could end up in an even worse hole than it is in now.
K: Evan Bush - 6/10
Was decent overall, making a few nice saves, but could have been more aggressive in the box, specifically on the all-important first goal. I did like that he distributed the ball more efficiently at least, adding a few more throws and short kicks to his repertoire.
CB: Laurent Ciman - 7/10
Was pretty good on Saturday but got a little carried away with his attempts at pushing up the pitch too quickly. Was nowhere to be seen on the first Portland goal, and needs to act like the last line of defense on such plays, instead of relying on the less mobile Soumare to mop up for him.
CB: Bakary Soumare - 8/10
I thought that Bakary did all he could to keep the Impact in this game, playing one of his better matches of the year. Made a number of game-saving tackles, and even looked very comfortable carrying the ball up the pitch, distributing with ease.
LB: Eric Miller - 7.5/10
Eric Miller was another player who really impressed me on the day. He always seemed to be positioned well defensively, whether it was to track his own man, or to cover for his teammates. Was also much more proactive offensively, something that he lacked in his first start of the year against TFC. All in all it was a very promising game for the young fullback.
RB: - Nigel Reo-Coker 7/10
I'd say that Reo-Coker played one of his better games, defensively speaking, on Saturday. Was rarely caught out on the right flank, and seemed generally in good positions defensively. His one clear mistake resulted in the Valeri goal, but that wasn't really a big error; it was just pure skill and anticipation by the Timbers' star. Reo-Coker did well pushing the ball up the pitch as well, and seemed to be locked in to making runs and working off of his teammates well.
DM: Marco Donadel 7/10
I had nothing really to complain about concerning Donadel. First off, was much better with his free kicks and corners, as he put most of them into good, dangerous spots in the box. Was a fluid ball distributor, and kept his game simple, not trying to dribble or over think plays too much.
DM: Calum Mallace - 6/10
As the DM who's job it was to play a little farther up the pitch, I would have like to have seem Calum push the play a little faster, and look to hit his teammates in stride with passes. I just thought he was a little too gun shy out there, and could have been much more proactive offensively.
LM: Dilly Duka 7/10
Dilly displayed some pretty good movement throughout the match, but I find he's wasted out wide on the wing. Doesn't have the size and 1v1 skills to really dominate out there, and seemed to flourish when he switched every once in a while with Piatti and played more centrally. That doesn't mean that he played badly, to the contrary, he was very lively, and had good interplay with Romero, Piatti and MacInerny throughout the contest.
CAM: Nacho Piatti - 7.5/10
Again, like Duka, I find Piatti is playing in the wrong position. Seems to hold on to the ball and over dribble whenever he plays in the middle. Out wide he looks terrific, as when he helped set up the Impact's goal.
RM: Andrés Romero - 7/10
Romero put in a good shift on the right wing. Started the game in lively fashion with some good ball pressuring, and really didn't let up much over the full 90 minutes. Had good chemistry with Reo-Coker on the right, and nearly scored on a shot in the middle of the box in the second half.
Striker: Jack McInerney 7.5/10
I feel like MacInerny is starting to settle in with the Impact. He seems to be gaining the respect of his teammates by working harder and making more runs. Clearly thrives with Oduro in a 4-4-2, and I think he will really start to score goals on a consistent basis if and when Klopas decides to pair them up. On Saturday he also did a good job of finding his teammates in open space, getting the ball out wide to his wingers on a few occasions.
Subs: Alexander, Oduro, Cooper
After the insertions of Alexander and Oduro, one has to wonder what could have been, had they started. Both were pretty big upgrades, as they eventually teamed up to provide the Impact with their one and only goal of the match. Alexander started the game at DM, replacing Mallace, and was immediately more confident in his attacking movements.
Oduro scored two minutes after his arrival, and was generally a threat as a secondary striker.
Didn't see too much of the ball in the last 10 minutes or so, as it seemed that every Impact player, including himself, was trying to run the ball into the net all by themselves. Cooper came on in the 86th minute, and barely got a look in the box, let alone a touch. Hopefully we see more of him on Wednesday, when Montréal head to Toronto for the second leg of the Amway Championships.
Though they lost the match, I didn't think the Impact played that badly. That said, there are a lot of things that they could improve, specifically defense in the box. This is one area of their game that doesn't depend on formation or personnel change. To me, it just comes down to simply focusing at the task at hand, which is to clear their lines and make sure the ball is completely out of danger.
Defense is not the team's biggest problem though, even if they've conceding a lot of goals at times this season. The larger issue is bad offense, which I've always said can lead to goals going the other way.
Whether it's the formation or personnel, the offence is just far too stagnant to my liking. Compared to other teams in MLS, there's far too much stopping and looking before making a pass, or just hanging on to the ball for far too long. Passes needed to be made quicker, runs need to be made more frequently, and more balls need to be crossed into the box. Simply put, the Impact haven't done a good enough job of putting opposing defenses under pressure this season.
Here's a lineup I'd like to see for Wednesday night: