After months of speculation, fan anger, and a series of very poor results, head coach Frank Klopas finally got what pretty much everybody expected he’d get: his walking papers. Whether he deserved this fate or not, it almost didn't matter. Something had to change, and this made the most sense.
A hope and a prayer
In my estimation, Frank Klopas has been coaching like someone who has run out of ideas, and to me that is precisely why he was let go. His inability to adapt as the season progressed was a strong indication that he might not have the goods to take this team very far.
Very simply, the season took a turn when the rest of the league started to notice and respect IMFC's ability to counterattack. There’s a reason why they beat Columbus twice, and came away with impressive wins against FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake: these teams did not sit back. They attacked with far too many men up the pitch and were punished for it.
Watch enough game tape (or just glance at some advanced stats) and it becomes clear that the chances of conceding a goal versus the Impact in static, ball possession type situations are slim to nil. Armed with this information, IMFC’s opponents played with an ultra defensive, counterattack style for much of July and August, and Klopas never came up with a way of countering (no pun intended) this.
When you put the same striker in your lineup, in the same 4-2-3-1 formation, week in week out, you’re basically just hoping it will work. It did not appear as though Klopas had any real strategy in most games. As far as I could tell, his "strategy" was to put in the best players he had at any given position and hope for the best.
Oduro: Freaky fast and freaking inconsistent
No one will argue that Oduro has a better goal scoring record and more experience then Jackson-Hamel. But at some point you have to realize that tactically speaking, starting Oduro alone at striker, especially at home, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Most teams, even when they’re not playing the Impact, play more defensively on the road. So what is the use of playing Oduro, whose best attributes are speed and getting behind a backline, against a team that sits back? It makes no sense, and in my estimation, cost the Impact dearly in their home games of late.
In their match against TFC, Klopas got the tactics perfectly right (even if he didn’t know why). Oduro at striker on the road is exactly what you want. Thing is, this player is horribly inconsistent, which is actually very normal for someone that relies so much on speed. It’s almost unsurprising that he couldn’t set his feet properly and score the easiest of goals on Saturday. What’s more surprising is that he was able to show the composure he did on his goal in the second half, on a finish that was much more difficult.
The bottom line is that Oduro is not good enough to be treated like an irreplaceable player. Tactics have called for a big, strong presence at striker in a number of games, and yet Jackson-Hamel’s number has never been called to start.
Coaching scared or plain stubbornness?
Why Frank Klopas only started a game once this year in a formation that wasn’t a 4-2-3-1 is a bit of a head scratcher. To me it’s a mixture of not having the courage to play something different, with being too hardheaded to want to change.
Playing a one-striker formation with an average No. 9 is not a recipe for success, unless your game plan every week is to sit back and try to catch teams on the break. Since this is not necessarily the case with the Impact, playing the 4-4-2 or some kind of two-striker formation would have made a lot of sense in some games this year.
If there is some kind of fear that the team would struggle defensively in a 4-4-2, it is based on smoke and mirrors. This is a team that features maybe the best defender in the league (Ciman), and two fullbacks (Oyongo and Toia) that have both played exceptionally well. There is no reason to believe that the Impact would suddenly concede at will with only one holding midfielder. Especially now that Marco Donadel has really settled in at that position, it would seem logical to play two strikers up front, and forego a second holding midfielder. A diamond midfield, with Donadel at the base, Piatti at the top, and Mapp and Romero/Venegas on the flanks, would be a sensible look for the team.
Frustration and mental fatigue setting in for Ciman
It’s been a very long year for Laurent Ciman. Since coming over from Standard Liège in the winter transfer window, the Belgian has been through the wringer, putting the Impact on his back game in, game out, and it’s catching up to him.
Physically he’s probably fine, but mentally speaking he must be drained. The team’s inability to get results seems to be weighing a bit more heavily on him than most players in the squad, and he’s noticeably lost his focus in the last few games (maybe more).
It’s not a coincidence that Ciman has two red cards in his last 4 games. The ace defender simply has not been on top of his game of late, and though he’ll be sorely missed in the next 3 games, it might also do him a world of good to get some time off. A mentally fresh Ciman could be just what the team needs down the stretch.
Play direct or perish
Mauro Biello really has one, super important message to pass along to players starting next practice, and that is to play more direct. This means a number of things, but it all boils down to the same thing: Less is more, simple is better. If your first instinct is to pass to a streaking player in open space, pass it. If you’re only option is to take a shot on net, shoot it. The team too often this year has shot themselves in the foot with what I like to call irresponsible offence.
Maybe why Klopas was so worried to play 4 midfielders all season long was because of how badly the team played in its offensive buildup. If you play a responsible offense, which means you don’t hang on to the ball too long or attempt ill-advised shots or passes, your midfield won’t get shredded on counterattacks.
Who knows, maybe by playing a 4-4-2, the Impact will be forced to play less carefree in the offensive third, which will take more pressure off of their defense…