Outshot, out-chanced and lets face it, outplayed, New York City FC probably didn’t deserve all three points versus IMFC on Saturday night. That said, the game isn’t played on paper. Wins don’t come gift-wrapped: you have to earn them. Sadly for the Impact, it was just one of those games where the stars were not aligned in their favor.
Beautiful… but agonizing
Of course, that’s not to say that the game was not incredibly frustrating. As Technical Director Adam Braz pointed out during his halftime interview, it really was one of the best halves of football Montréal had played all season. IMFC created a handful of clear-cut scoring chances, all of them stopped by either NYFC’s backline or by their keeper, Josh Saunders, who steered aside 8 shots in the contest.
There was so much to like by the Impact in this game, especially in the first 30 minutes. The passing and movement was excellent, and I thought it was somewhat of a benchmark game as far as creativity is concerned. The Impact looked dangerous in a variety of ways, something that they are not necessarily known for.
I’ve been on Nacho Piatti this year for his ball distribution, but I’d say it was his best game of the year in that respect. His passing was really on point, and there was nothing wasteful in his ball possession. He also didn’t just look for Romero, as he has tendency of doing, finding Duka and McInerney with inch-perfect passes that easily could have (Should have?) resulted in goals.
Onefootacitis, a defender’s best friend
Which leads me to my next point. Maybe I’m wrong, but the Impact attackers seem to suffer from that unfortunate illness known as Onefootacitis. What? You’ve never heard of Onefootacitis?
Definition: One-foot-a-cit-is – noun / A chronic condition that forces a footballer to consistently put the ball on his favoured foot.
We’ve seen it all year long, and we saw it again on Saturday. Whether it was one extra dribble or an extra second to ready themselves, the attacking men up front (Duka, Romero, McInerney and Piatti) were all guilty of spending just a bit too much time on the ball before shooting. It’s not a huge criticism, but having a lack of confidence in your less-favored foot can sometimes change what is a sure goal into a just a very good scoring chance.
It also can help the defender who’s covering you, as they know they can wait until you switch it to your favored foot. For those who were paying close attention, Romero created Piatti’s penalty late in the game by switching to his far less-favored left foot to make the pass into the box. A small detail, perhaps, but also a crucial one in a way, because it gives the attacker that bit of extra space to make a better play.
Unfortunately for the Impact, David Villa just happens to be one of the best two-footed players in the world. On the opening goal, you can blame Ambroise Oyongo for giving Villa too much space, but in his defense, it’s hard to know which way to commit yourself. Villa ended up putting the ball on his left foot – his less-favored foot – and the rest is history.
I thought Frank Klopas did a good job of making in-game changes, as switching to a 4-4-2 definitely led to the Impact equalizer. It was also a gutsy move to bring on Jackson-Hamel, and even if it didn’t result in a goal, it at least showed that the coach was willing to try something new in a big game.
Free kicking… the game away
Elsewhere, as much as I appreciated the efforts by Ciman and Donadel on a couple of free kicks, it remains a weakness for IMFC, and it was perhaps fitting that NYCFC won the game on a set-piece of their own.
It’s not that the Impact have horrible free-kick takers. We’ve seen some decent attempts this year from the likes of Mallace, Donadel, and Ciman. The issue at hand is that none of them strike fear into the opposition. This means that a lot of good ball movement by the Impact around the box often ends in a foul, because their opponents know that they don’t have a dangerous set-piece taker.
To me, this is the big missing link in the Impact squad this year, and in years passed as well. Not having an effective free kick specialist can really minimize the efficiency of one’s attack. It ostensibly gives the opposing team an out. Instead of sitting back too much to avoid committing a foul, they can simply go ahead and concede the free kick, knowing that it’s probably the safest play under the circumstances.
Big $$$ DP needed?
If you look around the league, most teams have an above-average free kick specialist, and not all of them cost a fortune. Players like Benny Feilhaber, Mauro Diaz, and Diego Valeri come to mind. All three are extremely dangerous from distance, but none of them take home more than 500k a season.
So as much as fans are all begging IMFC ownership to go spend a fortune on a DP, it might not be necessary. In my view, if the team wants to be successful this year and in years to come, it needs to improve in two areas: free-kicks and defensive coverage/tackling in midfield.
Who knows, maybe the Impact can find both of those attributes in one player!