When I tuned in to watch Montréal play against Columbus on Saturday, my expectations were fairly tempered. After all it was a road game (which they never win), and on top of that, it was their second game in four days. But then I saw the lineup card on TV, and everything changed. Suddenly there was hope. Lefèvre starting again at CB? Didn’t think Klopas had the balls to bench Soumare again. Tissot on wing and Alexander back in the middle? Thanks for reading my last article, Frank. ;)
Two insignificant changes you may say, but to me, huge ones. Not just because they were the right moves, but also because it showed that Klopas was sticking to his word: Play well, and you’ll get more time on the pitch.
So the lineup looked good, and on top of that, it was a beautiful night and the pitch seemed decent enough. I knew immediately this game would look nothing like the nightmare in Chicago, and I was not disappointed.
The Impact picked up right where they left off in the Vancouver game, and I mean that literally, because Tissot on the wing worked so well in the second half of that game, and Saturday’s affair began similarly.
There weren’t any real scoring chances early on, but there was definitely chemistry among the Impact players. Passes were delivered with purpose, and you just got a sense that everyone was on the same page offensively. The team would eventually make its mark in the second half, scoring twice in 24 minutes, and would hold on for their first road win since September of 2013.
Trouble with the cross
It was a big win, obviously, but defensively things were a bit of a struggle, with coverage in the box again sticking out like a sore thumb. The Crew’s No. 9, Kei Kamara, simply owned the Impact all night long, consistently winning headers in the box, beating any and all defenders in his wake.
In Montréal’s defense (no pun intended), Kamara has been doing this against everyone this year. It’s just a nightmare to defend him, as he’s taller than most everyone, and quicker. But Kamara is human (it’s true), and there is a way to stop him, or at least limit his ability to get off a good shot. It’s all about body position.
In the first half, Donadel got in front of Kamara in the box, forcing him to kick the ball wide. It was a perfect example of what Donadel should do more of. Instead of lashing out with an unnecessary tackle to win the ball, just making it to a spot to defend can often be enough to deter an attacking movement.
Unfortunately, this type of play didn’t happen enough against Columbus in the Impact’s area. It seems logical that when a cross comes in you should play the ball, but that’s not always possible. There needs to be more commitment by defenders to block out opponents in the box, instead of just focusing on the ball.
They call it ball watching for a reason. Too often have we seen Impact players look lost in the box, and it’s usually because they’re chasing the ball around instead of sticking to the man they’re covering. The Impact already struggle with header clearances in the box, but the problem gets compounded when defenders also blow their coverage.
What’s interesting about all of this is that the Impact brought in a new defense coach this year in the form of Enzo Concina, and with a lot of fanfare to boot. Though I have seen improvement with the Impact defense, it seems like a lot of it is mostly due to players like Ciman, Lefèvre and Toia making a lot of key tackles and blocks.
You can blame the player personnel all you want, but I think there’s a lot of work that can be done on the training ground to curtail certain defensive weaknesses.
I can deal with all the shots from outside of the box, as most of them aren’t dangerous, but the way the Impact deal with crosses in the area is bordering on abysmal. If the team wants to make it anywhere near the playoffs or beyond, this issue has to be addressed, and the sooner the better.
On the other side of the coin, the offense has been impressive. Despite losing player after player to injury this year, Montréal seems to reel off two-goal-or-better performances with ease. The key is getting the first goal in games. Once team’s fall behind the Impact in a game, the deadly Montreal counterattack erupts, and usually there’s a goal not too far behind.
Such was the case on Saturday, as Romero and Piatti hooked up for a picture perfect counterattack goal.
Speaking of Romero, I really can’t say enough about this guy. The way he works on the pitch to win balls with strength and skill is outstanding, and he’s equally impressive with his decision-making and delivery. Not only did he score the winning goal against Columbus, but he created the chance on Tissot’s opener, and made two pinpoint, cross-field through-balls to Piatti for very good scoring chances.
To top it all off, the Argentinian rarely fatigues in a game, and never sacrifices his defensive responsibilities for offense. If the season ended today, I would be hard-pressed to not award him the team MVP award. Who knows, maybe his absence versus Chicago had more to do with the loss than one might have thought. As it stands, he and Ciman may be the two most irreplaceable players on the team, and it’s down to work ethic and drive as much as anything else.
What’s exciting, too, is the offense can, and I think will, be better. Believe it or not, we can still see a more effective Piatti on the pitch, with him maybe making a move to the left side of midfield eventually. Say what you want about Klopas, but he has installed a very fluid, pass-heavy system, and the team has really embraced it. There’s obvious chemistry between players like Piatti and Romero, but even guys like McInerney and Oduro have figured out there role, understanding where to place themselves on the pitch, and how to work off of their teammates to create effective space and movement.
Figure out the defense and maybe add a couple of midfield pieces, and this team could really become a force in this league. Stay tuned!