The Montréal Impact defeated Real Salt Lake by a score of 4-1 on Saturday afternoon, and to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t necessarily the score that blew me away, but how well the team played as a unit, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
For a few weeks now I have been going on and on about how the Impact should change formations and or move players to different positions. I’d seen enough, I thought, to convince myself that what they were doing was not getting it done, and let’s face it, I wasn’t entirely wrong.
Most of my complaints revolved around the Impact's inconsistencies on offense, and on the premise that bad offense usually leads to better opponent opportunities.
The most glaring problem on offense, as far as I’m concerned, has been Ignacio Piatti. Since the beginning of the year, he has struggled to be a truly dominant central attacking midfielder. When you have the ball, and command the ball, as much as he does in the middle, the onus is on you to consistently make the right play with the ball. For the most part, we’ve seen a Piatti that tries to take players on and create for himself, and that hasn’t been good enough.
Until Saturday afternoon, that is.
What we saw on Saturday was a player that was looking for his teammates, was reading his teammates movements. From very early on in the match you could see that Piatti was passing and moving, instead of just moving and looking to pick out one particular pass.
Frank Klopas’ offense is predicated on a lot of passes and a lot of movement, and that is precisely what we saw against RSL. Playing against a 4-4-2, the Impact’s 4-2-3-1 was much more useful, because of all that passing and movement.
In previous posts I had mentioned how I would like to see Piatti and Duka switch positions, because its seemed that Piatti played more like a winger, and Duka more like a playmaker. The truth, I think, is somewhere in between for both. In a 4-2-3-1, I don’t think either have an ideal, natural position that they can play. To overcome that, they need to use their skill and trickery on the ball to open up space for their teammates, something they did beautifully on Saturday.
When Piatti plays with the mindset of a playmaker, this team can be very dangerous. Pacey players like Oduro and Romero can shine like they did on Saturday when their movement isn’t wasted by teammates holding on to the ball too long, and wasting possession in the process.
Another big improvement was the Impact’s pressure on the ball, and their aggressiveness to win the ball back. One of the predicates of Barcelona’s style of play is what they call the "Six Second Rule", which basically amounts to them trying to win the ball back in a minimum of six seconds after they lose it. I’m not saying that the Impact was in any way as effective as Barca is at winning the ball back. Still, you got the sense that our midfield players were working really hard, especially in the first half, to regain possession of the ball.
Specifically, on the second goal, the ball is won by an extremely aggressive Romero in midfield along the touchline. What happens after is actually a perfect example of two Impact teammates working together to create a scoring chance, rather than trying to do much on their own.
When Andres Romero wins the ball, he immediately looks to find his teammate, Piatti, instead of trying to run with the ball himself. Piatti in turn does the same, receiving the ball and then getting his head up to return the favor, finding Romero with a perfect over the top lob in the box for the eventual goal.
A very similar play happened in the second half between Piatti and Jack McInerney. Piatti found himself with the ball in space around midfield, and instead of running wildly towards goal, he heeds McInerney’s call for the ball, and lays it off to him. A few seconds later Piatti accepts a lob over the top from MacInerny, and he’s in on goal for a half-chance of his own.
So what was it about Saturday that finally saw the Impact explode for four goals, something they hadn’t done since 2013? To me it’s all about one word in particular, trust. When you hold on to the ball too long and try to do things by yourself, it’s generally because you don’t think your teammates are good enough, or can do better than you with the ball. What I saw on Saturday was a team that trusted each other, and it’s something I’ve seen coming for a while now.
Win or lose going forward, they can always look back to this game as a recipe for success, a benchmark performance for how to generate consistent, dangerous attacks.