Hello fellow readers, I hope you didn’t miss me too much. This week I will indulge you with my ideas of how the team can succeed in the upcoming playoffs, and a semi recap of what I’ve learned about the 2016 edition of the Montreal Impact.
I think we can all agree that, based on expectations coming into the year, this has been a fairly disappointing season for your favorite sports team. I know it feels like ages ago, but IMFC once had one of the premier strikers in the league in Didier Drogba, and a solid back four led by 2015 MLS defender of the year, Laurent Ciman.
Fast forward about 6-7 months and 3 or 4 facelifts Joan Rivers would be proud of, and the team looks like a shell of its previous self, sometimes functional but patchwork at best. Drogba is half the man he used to be (Scott Weiland R.I.P.), Ciman has been inconsistent at best, and despite the recent successes up front, the offense has gone through its fair share of struggles.
So what’s gone wrong? For starters, you could look at the acquisitions made in the last year or so and find that very few of them have worked out.
Failure to launch
Harry Shipp, once looked on as the potential savior in the middle of the park, has never truly fit in to the Impact’s setup, showing nothing more than flashes of creativity on the ball.
Lucas Ontivero started the season well, and many, including myself thought he could contend for rookie of the year honours. Those hopes quickly fizzled out though, as the Argentinian suffered one nagging injury after another, and looked too desperate to make an impression every time he got back in the lineup.
Acquired late last season, Johan Venegas has been a polarizing figure amongst pundits and fans alike, martyred by some due to his lack of playing time, criticized by others for never showing enough in his limited usage. My final analysis of the player falls somewhere in between.
Clearly the Costa Rican has talent; otherwise he would not get the call time and again from his country for international duty. Despite that, I personally have seen very little from him to make me believe he can actually help IMFC win on a consistent basis. Bottom line, just having talent is rarely enough, in any sport, to get consistent minutes. Johan Venegas for me falls into that category of player/situation.
Amadou Dia was the player Montréal acquired for the much loved, CCL hero Cameron Porter. A left fullback, Dia has gotten a couple of shots to prove himself thus far, but unfortunately has not looked very good. Part of the problem is that he’s been played solely on the right side, the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve graveyard where fullbacks have gone to die this year for IMFC. We still don’t have enough information to go on with Dia, and unless he ever gets a shot on his preferred left side, we may never will.
The Returned and the Man Who’s Name No One Can Get Right
On the positive side (yes there is one), the Impact went out and signed Italian Serie B star Matteo Mancosu, who despite his unpronounceable name and somewhat underwhelming track record, has been one of the most consistent players in the second half of the season.
Hernan Bernadello came back to shore up the black hole that is the defensive central midfield, and overall he has look sharp, engaged, and efficient. The team’s defense has not necessarily improved much, but it hasn’t really been due to the midfield in my opinion.
The duo and sometimes triumvirate of Bernadello, Marco Donadel and Patrice Bernier have done an above average job of winning back possession and cutting out through balls in the last couple of months. Surely there are better midfields in MLS, but the Impact aren’t conceding a lot of goals and losing games because of it.
Anyone who has watched with an attentive eye this season knows what the main has problem has been: conceding goals off of crosses into the box. The team has shown no consistency in defending this simplest of play, and the solution to this problem is nowhere in sight. Which leads me to my next segment…
How the heck are we going to win in the Playoffs?
What I’m about to tell you may seem like the most obvious/dumb suggestion anyone could make about any sports team, ever: The Montréal Impact should try to keep the ball and score a lot of goals.
Well yeah, duh, right? Well, not so duh as you may think, actually. You see, most professional soccer teams play one of two ways: either a defensive/counter attack style, where they soak up an opponent’s pressure before trying catching them on the break, or a possession style attack, where they try to keep the ball as much as possible, and live with the potential counterattack fallout.
The Montréal Impact has never really decided all year long who they want to be, and that’s partially because they probably thought they had a fairly stout defense. News flash: they don’t, and won’t magically have one anytime soon. The team has had success at times taking the counter puncher approach, but in order to do it on a weekly basis, you have to be able to sit on a lead.
As we saw last week against TFC and many other times this season, Montréal can’t help but get scored on when they concede possession for a lengthy period of time. They just don’t have the personnel and/or mentality to pull it off.
Evan Bush is an excellent shot stopper but below average at punching and catching; Laurent Ciman and Victor Cabrera are both great at tackling but average to abysmal in the air; and Donny Toia and Ambroise Oyongo are either playing out of position or don’t love defending. Besides that flukey/heroic performance against TFC down a man where they held on to win 1-0, the defence both allows too many crosses in to the box, and consistently fails to deal with them.
If you’ve only watched IMFC games of late you might think that struggling with crosses is perfectly normal, but it’s really not. Trying to score off of a cross is one of the lowest percentage plays in soccer, simply because most defences are good at defending it. The cross into the box is the NHL equivalent of dump and chase hockey, or the NBA equivalent of isolation offence. It’s not pretty to watch, and it’s usually a last ditch plan by most offences. Luckily for teams who play against the Impact, however, it’s the easiest way to score, and therein lies the problem.
So the Impact should…
...Never let the opponent have the ball! Well, that’s the idea anyhow. The Impact must throw caution to the wind in the upcoming playoffs, and avoid as much as possible to be caught sitting back. Coach Biello has to realize that trying to keep a clean sheet is probably nothing more than a pipe dream, and that the only path to victory is keeping the pressure on the opposing team’s defence, with or without the lead.
We’ve seen positives in the last few games, notably the chemistry up front between Nacho Piatti and Mancosu, as well as the stellar saves made by Evan Bush. With not much else to really hang their hat on, IMFC should game plan around these positives (offensive chemistry+hot goalie) and hope for the best.
Unless they decide to remake their defense by putting Camara back at CB and switching Toia and Oyongo, the team’s backline will continue to be a huge weakness going into the playoffs. If they hope to stand any chance of winning a game or two, they need to do two things: Keep possession of the ball, and when they lose it, work tirelessly to regain it. Anything else and we’ll surely see a rerun of a Tossaint Ricketts-type goal next week and beyond.