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Montréal Impact -- Weekend Review: The Piatti Show

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The Montréal Impact largely dominated the proceedings on Saturday, hanging on for for 3-2 win on the road versus NYCFC.

IMFC celebrate after taking a 1-0 lead over NYCFC on Saturday.
IMFC celebrate after taking a 1-0 lead over NYCFC on Saturday.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Montréal Impact won their second game on the road this year, defeating NYCFC by s score of a 3-2 on Saturday. Though the Impact didn’t necessarily setup much differently than they have in previous matches, it was in their tactical approach that they were able to get a stranglehold on the match.

Using speed with a purpose

I had been a bit perplexed as to how IMFC had been playing in recent games when employing Oduro up top as a striker.  In my opinion, there is only way to play when you use a fairly one-dimensional speedster as a lone striker, and that’s to hit defences on quick counters. In games prior, the Impact were playing too much of a possession-style game, which normally doesn’t induce a lot of counter attacks. On the contrary, it was the Impact who gave up counter attack opportunities in recent weeks.  SKC, for instance, scored twice on the break in their win over IMFC.

You have to play to your player’s strength if you want to win, and the Impact finally got it right on Saturday. Instead of trying to dominate possession, they sat back and waited to pounce on an NYCFC mistake, or cause one if they had the chance. This is precisely how they should have played their last two games, especially the one on the road in Kansas City.  IMFC scored their first two goals on long balls, one to Oduro and the other to Piatti, and both plays were predicated on speed and timing.

A theory I have as to why the Impact didn’t play this way against Seattle and Kansas City is that they had too much respect for their backlines. Though no one will argue that those teams have better defenses than NYCFC, it doesn’t mean that you should alter your style. With Oduro as the lone striker, there should be only one style, regardless of the opponent’s backline. Otherwise you’re just wasting a player on the pitch.

This defence is good… So take advantage of it!

Another point worth noting is that IMFC’s defense has proven all season long that it’s fairly lockdown when defending against sustained possession. With this in mind, you’d think that the team would concede possession a bit more in games, especially ones on the road.

I initially questioned Cabrera becoming the unquestioned No. 1 CB next to Ciman, what with his cramping issues and lack of footspeed, but he has been solid and pretty much error-free of late. One aspect that I think gives him an edge on Lefèvre is combativeness. It’s not to say that Lefèvre is too vanilla, but Cabrera just seems to have that extra bit of fire and grit that you need in a CB.

In the game itself, besides some moments of genius by Villa, the Montréal Impact defence was in complete control of the situation. This includes Donadel and Mallace, who were extremely active and positionally sound, and even Piatti, who I thought had his best defensive outing of the year.  This created a ton of counter attacking chances for the Impact, though once again, I was very underwhelmed by the team’s decision-making in those breakouts.

Counter-attack needs to improve

If not for Josh Saunders catching Piatti’s foot unnecessarily to concede the penalty, who knows how the game might have ended. The way the Impact dominated, even a draw would have been an extremely disappointing result. There have been a number of games this season where the Impact have failed to put opponents away, and Saturday was another worrying example of this trend. I haven’t seen a team create so many two-on-one chances and fail not only to score, but even hit the target. It’s usually down to Piatti trying to do too much by himself, and I assume that will change once Drogba and Venegas join the club.

Piatti is good, but could be great

As we saw with Piatti’s strong defensive play on Pirlo, it seems as though the Argentinian ups his game when big name players are on the pitch. On Saturday he put on a show with the ball in midfield, and I have a feeling he will be a much more efficient and tenacious player once he finds himself surrounded by equal or better talent.

Call it a gut feeling, but I think the Impact are about to turn the corner in a big way offensively, and a lot of it will be down to Piatti making the most of his time on the ball.  Honestly you can’t really blame the Argentinian for holding onto the ball too much this year. As much as I have been guilty of doing so, I suppose that if I were in Piatti's shoes, and I were tearing up the pitch on an a counter attack with Oduro or McInerney, maybe I would think that taking a shot rather than passing was the best option.  Now that he’ll have two proven options playing alongside him in attack (Venegas and Drogba), I’d be very surprised to see him play the same way he’s played thus far this season.

Oyongo and Toia: All-Star snubs?

Okay, I’m not really serious here, because I understand how the All-star selection process played out, but after watching the MLS all-stars take on Tottenham, I think IMFC’s two fullbacks would have fared quite well in that match. I haven’t mentioned either player very much in the last few weeks, but that’s mostly because there’s so little to criticize them about.

Though neither has really scratched the surface of their offensive potential this year (though I think that will soon change with Drogue waiting for crosses in the box), defensively they’ve been unbelievably solid on the flanks. Sure, Oyongo was caught flat-footed a couple of times against Villa on Saturday, but so have the best fullbacks in the world.

When you think back to how much Reo-Coker struggled at RB against FC América, you kind of have to wonder how much different a match that could have been if Oyongo was back there instead…

Whichever way you cut it, the combination of Toia and Oyongo are the best fullback combo IMFC have ever had, and who knows, they may be the best duo in the league!