After the Montréal Impact’s sad sack effort against the Chicago Fire last Saturday, the mood amongst the media and Impact fan base was pretty bleak. I, for one, was in the minority of people who thought that loss was am aberration, and that the chemistry they had developed in recent weeks wasn’t a mirage. So no, it wasn’t too surprising to see the Impact come away with a clutch, 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday night.
The Impact were not as smooth as they were against Dallas and Real Salt Lake, but the offense started to warm up in the second half. Another injury, this time to Dilly Duka on Saturday, forced Frank Klopas to play Eric Alexander out wide at left wing, which is not his strongest position. He’s a decent player, but doesn’t really have the ability to take players on. I thought attacks down the left were always kind of curtailed by his lack of speed in the first half, and it carried over up until the time he was subbed off.
What was really nice to see was how strong the Impact were defensively in this game. Besides a stretch of 5 minutes late in the first half where the whole team seemed to be unable to hold possession, it was a stout defensive effort from the home side.
Ambroise Oyongo, making a third appearance for the club, seemed right at home at RB, and was one of the better players on the pitch from my point of view. What impressed me was his technical proficiency on the ball, and that he didn’t rely on his speed to get himself out of jams. For me, it’s always a good sign when a player uses his speed as an added strength and not a crutch, and that’s what I saw from Oyongo. He used his pace when he had to, but mostly kept things simple and under control.
Elsewhere, Piatti did his best Piatti-impression, dribbling all over the pitch, wreaking all kinds of havoc in the process. It just feels like when he’s in the mood, everyone gains confidence as a byproduct. He still has the tendency to try to create more for himself than others, but certainly opens up a lot of space by doing so, and draws a ton of fouls.
At the end of the day he scored the winning goal with some lovely movement in the box, and you just have to accept that he’s the type of player that wants to get that last touch in an attacking build-up.
There’s been some talk this week about what kind of player the Impact should look for in the transfer window, and I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it should be some kind of central midfielder.
Besides missing a good, stout defensive presence in the middle of the pitch, there’s also a lack of creativity and vision, a player that can pick out the right pass a split second before the defence sees it coming.
After watching a ton of English Premiership games over the past 6-7 years, what’s become abundantly clear is that no matter the formation, most teams, even the subpar ones, have a player whose job it it to unlock the defence with a key pass.
Watching the game on Wednesday, I noticed time and again the lack of decisiveness with the ball in the offensive third, specifically in the middle of the pitch. But it’s not really anyone’s fault: when Calum Mallace has the ball in a dangerous spot in the offensive half, it shouldn’t be his responsibility to make the key pass that leads to a scoring chance.
There should be a player on the team that he lays it off for, someone who has the ability and skillset to make an above average play on the ball.
Watching a lot of Arsenal games, I always appreciate how their defensive midfielder, Francis Coquelin, plays his position. He sits deep like Mallace in front of his back four, and just focuses on keeping his work rate high and making good tackles. When he does get the ball, he keeps it super simple, moving it quickly to someone who can do something creative with it.
When you start asking players who aren’t creative to do too much with the ball (because no one can do better), that’s when you run into problems. Since Piatti is not the player to create with passing and vision, we clearly a need a compliment to his dribbling and technical prowess on the ball.
I keep saying it and saying it, but his attributes all fit the model of a scoring winger. I’d be shocked to discover that he played primarily as a central midfielder in Argentina, because it just doesn’t suit his skillset.
So what kind of player should we target? Well it would be great to get both a defensive and offensive central midfielder in July, but I would settle for a hybrid of the two. Someone who can play a little further up the pitch ahead of Mallace in defensive midfield, and that has a lot more creativity and vision than our current midfielders. Players in the MLS that fit this profile at the moment are Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman.
When you have a player in the middle of the pitch that can pull the strings for you, it makes everyone else’s job that much easier. The Impact offence already looks pretty decent, but they could be even better with this kind of player.