It was supposed to be the beginning of something special. It was supposed to be the game where, against a supposed weaker squad, Montréal would show the rest of the MLS that they were for real. Didier Drogba was supposed to come into the game and score the winning goal. All these things were supposed to happen. So what did we get?
A great big heaping pile of disappointment, my friends. That’s what we got.
The way the game played out, it appeared that the Impact players were just as nervously excited about Drogba’s debut as the fans were. Especially in the second half, before he came onto the pitch, the Impact looked like a confused bunch. Overall, the team lacked cutting edge all night long, and were scored on against the run of play in very familiar fashion. In the end it was the same old story for the team: Lots of possession, but most of it wasted.
Round hole, Square peg…
I’m slowly but surely losing my patience with Frank Klopas. It’s not the formation that’s bothering me, though. The team has always played a 4-2-3-1, and it has generally worked fine. You don’t make it to a CL final with the wrong formation, and you don’t make lemonade out of lemons with an oft-injured squad in the MLS either.
My issue is instead with personnel decisions, and it has been thus all season long. From playing Reo-Coker at RB, to Alexander at wing, we’ve seen it all this year, and it hasn’t been pretty. Saturday night was another example of uninspired selections in the starting XI. Oduro at striker? Venegas at CAM? Duka at wing? All three were ineffective, and unsurprisingly so.
I can’t stress enough how useless it is to play a speedy winger at striker against a team that sits back. That Klopas keeps throwing Oduro out there is utterly senseless to me. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of insanity.
So the obvious question is, why on earth do they not try Jackson-Hamel up top? This is not a risk, in my opinion. This is not like putting in a rookie at CB or DM. This only has a chance of varying degrees of success. Failure, or more precisely, losing due to starting Jackson-Hamel, is slim to none.
Then there’s Venegas at CAM. This player does not look comfortable as a central midfielder, and honestly, I thought he looked lost all night long. He doesn’t have the creativity or escapability that Piatti has, nor does he have the distribution skills that Donadel has. He seems like a natural forward, either as a winger or center forward. As we saw in the game, his best moments came in the box, where he had two or three nice chances.
Elsewhere, Duka has never really looked like he’s had the skillset to be a winger, and on Saturday he seemed to be constantly fighting himself with his decision-making. He never seems comfortable when he gets the ball out wide, and this is crucial when you have players like Lefèvre, Donadel and Ciman putting cross field passes on your boot. It’s utterly wasteful, and really hard to watch as a fan of the club.
Put your players in a position to succeed
I’m not saying that Frank Klopas is doing a horrible job. Far from it, I think he’s managed some decent results with the overhaul of players he’s had this year, as well as all the injuries. Still, you have to keep trying things when you’re the coach; you can’t sit on your laurels.
The system that he utilizes calls for players in center midfield that can move the ball quickly and precisely. A player like Donadel or Bernier should be playing at CAM in my opinion when Piatti is not playing. On Saturday, with both Bernier and Piatti out, I would have played Donadel at CAM and Bekker or Reo-Coker beside Mallace at DM. This would at least have been an experiment that had a chance of succeeding, with better ball movement coming from the middle, and better overall defense to boot.
Up front I would have put Venegas (or Mapp) and Oduro on the wings with Jackson-Hamel at striker. Oduro opens up space as a winger, and Venegas can use his trickery to better effect out wide. Jackson-Hamel is a big boy who can hold his own in the box. The bottom line is that a 4-2-3-1 calls for a back-to-goal, big-bodied striker. It’s troubling that the Québec-born player has been played so little since McInerney left the squad.
For me, either you change up your formation, or change up your personnel; it has to be one or the other. I think Klopas’ biggest problem is his loyalty to certain players and lack of adaptability. Oduro had one excellent game against Columbus a month and a half ago, and has started every game at striker since then, regardless it seems of his form, week to week. What’s more, the goals he has scored come on plays that easily could have been scored had he been at wing. They were not necessarily goals a No. 9 would score. To me, his talent is wasted at striker, pure and simple.
It sounds obvious, but in the end it is as simple as putting players in a situation where they can succeed. Right now, Klopas too often has done the opposite, starting players in positions that are almost counterintuitive to their skill set.
Enter the Drogba
Oh by the way, Didier Drogba played on Saturday. He barely touched the ball, but was at least a nuisance in the box. He created space for his teammates and headed on to Venegas for a scoring chance late on. He’ll need more time to get a feel for his team as well as the league, so patience will be needed. Still, there was no denying the fact that the Ivorian was a handful to deal with in the area for the Union defenders.
Philadelphia ended up winning the game on a nice bit of skill from Sebastian Le Toux. Believe it or not, no matter how bad their record may be, the Union had a better attack on paper in this game than IMFC. Between Sapong, Barnetta, Maidana and Le Toux, you had a front four that showcased a variety of ways to beat you.
Maidana is a true No. 10, who has a deft passing touch. Sapong is a good target-man with nice size and hold-up skills. Barnetta and Le Toux generally put in good crosses and make good decisions on the ball.
All four players play a simple, direct style; a style that, frankly, I would like to see more of from the Impact.