This was an interesting match, due to not only the personnel shuffle, but also a formation change that proved vital to the team's success.The game did not really get started for the Impact until about the 30-minute mark, which just happened to coincide with Klopas deciding to alter the formation from the preferred 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. Oduro joined McInerney up top, while Alexander moved to right midfield.
A lot of people have been clamoring for a switch to 4-4-2, mostly because it appears that more often than not, the lone striker rarely seems to touch the ball in the current system the Impact play. They are not wrong; whether it's been McInerney or Oduro playing in that role, they've rarely gotten consistent service of the ball.
The problem has been two-fold. Either the attacking 3 have ignored the lone striker, or the lone striker has not made enough quality runs to free himself for opportunities.
A dangerous 4-2-3-1 system requires excellent quality in two positions in particular, CAM (center attacking midfield) and striker. In my opinion we have neither, and this is something Klopas needs to admit to himself.
Nacho Piatti is a very good player, but he's not a very good CAM. Why? Well simply put, a CAM's main strength is ball distribution, and that is not Piatti strongest asset. Piatti, as I've said before in this column, likes to play like a winger. He wants to take players on 1v1, and create something for himself first and foremost. That's not a bad quality to have. It's just not the first quality you look for in a CAM.
We have better distributors of the ball in my opinion, players like Duka and Bernier for instance, but neither of them are top quality CAM's either. It's clear to me that the Impact work better as key ball distributors by committee, which is what comes much more freely in a 4-4-2.
Up top, McInerney and Oduro are decent strikers, but are not the type of players who can hold up play, distribute, and make runs all on their own to great effect. These were the qualities of Di Vaio, and maybe the problem is that Klopas is asking his current strikers to play exactly the same way.
Oduro has the luxury of being able to play wing and be effective with his speed down the flank. McInerney is not blessed with great speed, and clearly looks better in a 4-4-2 because he can play off another striker by making runs and distracting/occupying the defense.
McInerney has excellent instincts in the box, but it's hard to make those instincts count when you're the only striker the defense needs to worry about.
Once Oduro joined him in a 4-4-2 late on in the first half on Wednesday, the game started to open up for both of them. In the second half there was a play that caught my attention, one that didn't matter that much at the time, but I think got into the heads of the TFC backline.
About 5 minutes in, Mallace had the ball to make a pass into the final third, when he looked up and saw both JackMac and Oduro making runs into and around the box. One defender got frozen, while the ball eventually got played out to Oduro where he drew a corner.
I think this play in particular put the TFC backline on notice for the rest of the game. They suddenly couldn't key in on one guy in particular, and wouldn't you know it, Reo-Coker ends up finding a practically unguarded McInerney for an easy tap-in and the game's only goal.
Obviously, as we all know, TFC put out a largely B squad of players, so it's hard to judge how effective the 4-4-2 truly was. Still, one could see that the in-game change clearly began opening things for the Impact offence, and I think this formation garners another look in the near future.
Coach: Frank Klopas - 7/10
For the most part, I thought Klopas fielded the right lineup, and his switch to a 4-4-2 as previously discussed really gave the Impact the advantage they needed. Still, I was disappointed that they didn't commit to this decision and let it play out. The way things were going, this seemed like a perfect game to give Piatti a full night off. I would have brought on Cooper for Oduro, and continued what seemed like a great new experiment with the 4-4-2. Klopas instead opted to bring on Piatti and switch back to a 4-2-3-1. If there was ever going to be a game where you could experiment with tactics, this was the game. It's a shame that they bailed on a formation that was doing them nothing but good.
K: Eric Kronberg - 7.5/10
Had very little to do, but what I like about Kronberg is his ball distribution skills, something that Bush has a ton of difficulty with. Was always looking to make a quick outlet throw, and wasn't afraid to do away with the long goal kick for a short pass to his teammates in front of him. Also made a decent save on the Bradley free kick, and came out quickly when needed to gobble up loose balls in the box.
CB: Laurent Ciman - 8/10
It would be nice to be able to bench Ciman for a game, but unfortunately the Impact are an accident waiting to happen without him. Was excellent as usual on Wednesday, even though, believe it or not, he was not the most impressive defender on the night. That said, he did nothing to put his team in danger, and made a few clutch tackles in the area.
CB: Wandrille Lefèvre - 8.5/10
Lefèvre delivered one of his best performances in an Impact uniform against TFC on Wednesday. Maybe he just needed a star CB to play along with and give him the confidence to play his game. I've always liked Lefèvre; he reminds me of players like Laurent Kosielny and ex-Arsenal player Thomas Vermaelan, as well as Ciman. He likes to attack the ball up the pitch by anticipating in the tackle, and then delivering passes like a box-to-box midfielder. Like Ciman, he seems to have no difficulty tracking back and making key tackles as well, something he did with ease on Wednesday. I wonder if he can't get playing time at CB, he might make for a pretty good defensive midfielder. Food for thought.
LB: Eric Miller - 6/10
Though he didn't really add much to the Impact's offense down the left flank, Miller was solid for the most part against TFC, and actually improved as the game wore on. He started to anticipate passes better, and instead of sitting back and waiting for the opposition to come to him, he began attacking balls in the air. With the amount of injuries we have at fullback, Miller will be called upon frequently in the coming weeks, and this was a good match to give him the confidence he needs moving forward.
RB: - Nigel Reo-Coker 6.5/10
Reo-Coker will always look good when he's defending against lesser players, enabling him to be more active on the offensive side of the pitch, where he's much more effective. Such was the case on Wednesday, where he set up the winning goal on an inch perfect pass into box. Like with Miller, the good news is that another 90 minutes at fullback will at least get him ready, mentally, for much harder competition in the next few games, starting with Portland on Saturday.
DM: Patrice Bernier 7.5/10
I thought Bernier was very good overall on Wednesday. Defended his position well, and did a really nice job of distributing the ball effectively and creatively at times. Watching him play, I wonder if he's possibly the closest thing the Impact have to a natural CAM on the team. Was a willing distributor in the middle, and attempted a number of through balls, which is a bit of rarity on this team. They didn't always work, but they were at least good enough to put the defense on notice.
DM: Calum Mallace - 6.5/10
Mallace didn't have his strongest game, but at least finished it well. Was a shadow of himself for the first 20 minutes, constantly losing the ball cheaply, sometimes in dangerous areas. The formation change seemed to do him some good, as the team tightened up a bit in the middle. He played a nearly flawless last 40 minutes or so before getting subbed off, passing and moving about the pitch more freely and confidently.
LM: Maxim Tissot 6/10
Tissot was maybe a bit stymied by playing with a less offensively active Eric Miller down the left channel. It resulted in him being more effective tracking back then going forward, which is fine, but I would have liked to have seen him get more touches in the final third. One positive thing that stuck out was the corner he took was one of the better Impact corners I've seen taken this year.
CAM: Eric Alexander - 7/10
His position says CAM, but actually Alexander played three positions on Wednesday, RM, DM and CAM, positions he played to varying degrees of effectiveness. Starting as the attacking center mid, I thought he looked a bit overwhelmed, always trying to do too much with the ball on the rare occasion he would get it deep in the TFC zone. As a right midfielder in the 4-4-2, he looked right at home, however. He was much livelier with the ball, relying more on instincts rather than thinking about where to make a pass or dribble. He was equally solid as a DM in the 4-2-3-1, a position I think he's perfectly suited for.
RM: Dominic Oduro - 8.5/10
Oduro is really becoming a guy you can rely on to consistently make something happen in the final third. I find that he's gaining in confidence by the match, and it showed against TFC, where he was very creative in his attempts at slipping through the opponent's backline. His vision and awareness were also on display, as he made some excellent passes and runs that easily could have resulted in goals.
Striker: Jack McInerney 8/10
Also an excellent game from McInerney . Didn't really get going until the impact switched formations, but seemed a different player when they did, doing really well to work off of Oduro to create space for himself. Scored once and probably should have had two, if not for a brain cramp on the through ball by Oduro. Displayed excellent movement throughout most of the match, making effective runs in and around the box that his teammates couldn't ignore.
Subs: Romero, Duka, Piatti
Three of our more prolific players came on in the second half, though none of them really had much of an impact on the game. Romero came on first, and like Tissot before him, was a bit stagnant on the left. Duka took Alexander's spot at RM, and seemed to have decent chemistry with Reo-Coker down the right side. Piatti subbing in for Oduro was a bit incomprehensible to me. People may say that they were going for more goals with this move, but I'd say it killed any momentum they had. From that point on the team reverted to the less effective 4-2-3-1, and once again Jack-Mac looked to be on an island as the lone striker. Piatti was okay, but again seemed more interested in using his trickery to beat defenders, rather than look for his teammates making runs.
Overall the Impact played well against a team that they had to beat, all things considered. Wins have been hard to come by for this team however, so you can't be too hard on them.
With how effective the 4-4-2 looked at times during this game, Klopas will now be even more under the microscope in coming fixtures, as he tries to figure out what his best system and personnel should be. Admittedly, I'm a little discouraged by how this last game ended, as it looks like Klopas is either too afraid to play Piatti anywhere but CAM, or too blind to notice that he'd be more effective elsewhere.
The fact that Oduro and McInerney teamed up so well as a striker duo will hopefully make the coaching staff realize that maybe a permanent formation change is on the cards. I doubt it will happen right away though; with their success playing a 4-2-3-1 in the CCL, they will probably be wary to ditch that model too quickly.
Another interesting storyline to watch for will be the potential battle at CB between Soumare and Lefèvre. There's nothing pointing towards Bakary Soumare losing his starting job anytime soon, but coupled with his lackluster performance in the CCL finale and Lefèvre's excellent shift on Wednesday, we might see at the very least some rotation as the season progresses.