IMFC came away with a disappointing result in Kansas City on Saturday, falling to the home team by a score of 2-1. Good news, for me anyway, was that the game made for quite a few talking points, as a loss often seems to do.
The confidence game
After now watching 20-odd games this year, I think I’ve seen enough of the Impact to say with certainty that the team plays well when Piatti is really on his game. When he’s not, the team as a whole suffers, and that’s pretty much what happened on Saturday night.
I know, I know, he scored a goal, and yes, that was very nice. Besides that one, let us say, magic moment, I found the Argentinian to be inconsistent.
There are two Piattis. There’s the team-oriented Piatti, who always has his head up looking to make a play either with a dribble or a pass; and then there’s the selfish Piatti, the player that has his head down and literally tries to dribble the ball into the net.
To me, it all comes down to confidence, not in himself, but rather in the striker ahead of him. At the beginning of the year he had very little confidence in both Oduro and McInerney, and it showed on the pitch. He would constantly hold on to the ball too long, or just look to feed Romero. As the season has gone on, he’s found some good chemistry with McInerney, to the point where I was convinced he had finally figured out how to play as a proper CAM. On Saturday against KC though, all the bad habits came back, and I think it was specifically because Oduro was leading the line.
But coach, I’m a winger!
If you thought the Ghanaian was invisible for most of the night, you weren’t the only the one. Besides one dangerous ball he received from Piatti behind the KC backline, he barely touched the ball. It’s not necessarily his fault; he just doesn’t have the instincts required to be a solo striker. I think the team knows this, too. Look back at all his best moments from this season, and they’ve all come either on the wing or in a two-striker setup.
So what do you get when you put a winger at the striker position (Oduro), and couple him with a midfielder (Piatti) who doesn’t pass unless he trusts his striker?
As a byproduct, Duka and Romero seemed to absorb Piatti’s mindset, as they too over dribbled and overplayed the ball on numerous occasions. It’s amazing how players can play completely differently depending on whom they’re playing with, especially if it’s a different striker. Imagine if they had a certain Ivorian up front…
I know, everyone is harping on this, but let me go into a little more detail as to why playing the 4-4-2 should be at times the team's first option.
Case in point, Saturday night. After Jack Mac came up lame earlier that day (or on Friday, not 100% sure), the team was forced to go with Oduro up top. But should that have really been option B? Maybe using a player who obviously is much more effective on the right side, is not the best options as a lone striker. Maybe, just maybe, they should have tried a different formation; dare I say it? Yes, a 4-4-2.
But then I start to wonder: Is it possible that the team has only been practicing in a 4-2-3-1 all week long? Part of me thinks this is the case, and this is why the team has never started a game in anything but a 4-2-3-1 for as long as I can remember. It's almost like they didn't have a contingency plan in the event that McInerney got injured, and when he did, they just put in the best player available and hoped for the best.
Playing a formation with the wrong player (or two) can really disrupt the flow and chemistry of your team. On Saturday, playing Oduro up top did just that. The goals that IMFC gave up were off of turnovers, and though you can’t really blame Oduro or the formation for that, there was definitely a lack of cohesion between the players on both plays.
Adapting to your opponent
I think that one of the weaknesses of this club all year long has been adapting to their opponents from one week to the next. KC is a team that likes to sit back and wait for their opponent to make a mistake. With this knowledge, it should have been clear that a different setup was required. A 4-2-3-1 against a team like KC makes little sense, especially with a one-dimensional speedster striker like Oduro up top. It’s hard to put through-balls in to a player when the opposing defense is just sitting there, waiting.
It would have made a lot more sense if IMFC had instead started the game with a 4-4-2, or at least some kind of formation that didn’t leave a player isolated up top. A 4-4-1-1, for instance, with Piatti much closer to Oduro, would have at least put more pressure on the KC backline.
Speaking of a plan B, I often think IMFC don’t have one. In the last 25 minutes of Saturday’s lost, the team looked like they had no clue how to break down the KC backline. Were they tired? Sure, I suppose that’s a valid excuse with the heat and all, but still, you’d expect a little variety in their attack. Instead, it seemed like they were trying the exact same plays over and over again.
In short, IMFC need to figure out how to play when trailing. I’d be surprised how many (if any) points the team has accumulated after falling behind in a match. A counter attack style is nice, but if its your only style, you’ll rarely eke out those all-important road draws.
...And now we wait for Mr. Drogba... ;)