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Round table discussion: 3 keys to a Montreal Impact victory

MLS: Playoffs-Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls
Piatti celebrates IMFC’s victory over NYRB
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

We have assembled three MRS writers, Noah Markowicz, Alexi Dubois and Matthew Bouchard to discuss the keys to an IMFC victory over Toronto this Tuesday.

Question: What are the keys to an Impact victory this Tuesday versus TFC.

Alexi Dubois:

The Impact have proven over their most recent matches that they know how to win. However, this Tuesday, when the Impact take to the pitch at the Big O in front of 60 000+ eager supporters, they will face a unique challenge: Toronto FC and their deadly trio of designated players. Here are my keys to victory for the Impact’s first leg of the eastern conference final:

1. Limit the service into Jozy Altidore: If the Impact are going to have a chance, they are going to have seriously limit Toronto’s crosses towards the tall, physical Altidore. This responsibility will fall first to our fullbacks. They will have to close down TFC’s wingers to limit the amount of crosses they send in. No matter how well our fullbacks play, a few crosses will be sent towards Altidore. On those occasions, it will be Laurent Ciman’s responsibility to read the cross and cut it out before it reaches the dangerous Altidore and he makes us pay.

2. Limit Giovinco’s time and space on the ball: As much as it pains me to admit it, the flea sized Sebastien Giovinco is one of the most dangerous players in the MLS. When he has time and space, Giovinco will run at defenders and make absolute fools out of them. He can weave and wag his way through a back line and finish with deadly accuracy. That is why our holding midfielders will need to keep very close tabs on Giovinco when he is on and off the ball. If we can successfully contain the atomic diver, we can eliminate a key asset of Toronto’s game. However, if we let the flea run rampant, it will be a long night for Evan Bush and our back four.

3. Make the most of our opportunities: Ok, enough with the Toronto talk. On the offensive side of the ball, we can presume that our opportunities will be few and far between. In all likelihood, IMFC will bunker down deep in their own half and hope to make the most of their opportunities on the counter. Piatti will have a look or two at goal. If he converts on those chances, the Impact will be in a good position for the away leg. However, if the Impact squander their rare offensive opportunities, it's going to be an uphill battle in Toronto. In short, whether it be Piatti on the counter, a corner kick or a free kick, the Montreal Impact will need to make those chances count.

Matthew Bouchard :

Although Harry Shipp has claimed that the Impact are not the underdogs in this clash, I don’t think I’m the only one that believes this will be the biggest challenge yet for the boys in blue. Here are my three keys to a Montreal Impact victory on the home leg of the Conference Final tie. You can see that my keys are less to do with performing offensively, as I feel pretty good about it, and more in not conceding chances and springing forward confidently with the ball.

1. Need to manage crosses: When it comes to defensive matchups, I am altogether satisfied that the Montreal backline is better than that of Toronto. However, there is a key issue when dealing with the attacking power of TFC: Crosses. Where I have faith in Marco Donadel and Laurent Ciman’s ability to keep up with the Ants runs, I have much more worry about who will be covering Altidore during crosses. Our squad has shown itself to be weak in that regard, and though Evan Bush has picked it up of late, his commitment to getting to crosses into his box has been uncertain at times. Ambroise Oyongo and Hassoun Camara will be charged with shutting down the flank-play of TFC, and keeping the ball moving into the center, where it should be gobbled up by Bernier, Bernardello, or Donadel. This approach worked wonders against New York Red Bulls in leg one, but did not work as well in the second leg. If we can limit the crosses, it means we limit the amount of times Jozy Altidores size becomes an issue. No one on our backline matches up to him particularly well, especially in the air. Camara will have his work cut out for him on set pieces.

2. Successfully execute our Counter Style of play: With all the hubbub after our win over NYRB, you would think that Montreal is a park-the-bus kind of team. Frankly, I respectfully disagree but I can see what you mean. If you ever see Montreal park-the-bus, and then hoof it down the field, it’s because something is very wrong. Either the boys are tired, overwhelmed, or truly don’t have the strategy to find a better way. I will ask you this though, watch the game against DC United and the first leg against RBNY again. Keep an eye on how our transitions work. Almost every single time we regain possession, our confident midfield has held the ball, allowed our tactical shape to shift forward, and we carry the ball up the field with confidence. Did we lose in possession numbers? Sure. But we did extremely well at creating chances every single time we carried the ball up. And once we lose the ball, no worries, get back in shape and keep that ball in the high traffic areas. That, in my opinion, is the ‘Montreal Impact style of play’ that we’ve heard so much of lately. This is not a style that you’ll see Stoke play against Liverpool; there is no panic in this transition and that is key. That system pivots heavily on three things, our ability to cause turnovers without collapsing our shape, calming the game down to our speed in transition, and keeping our passes accurate and on the ground. I’m looking at Donadel and Bernier to play the game of their lives.

3. Get to them first, and hopefully early: Don’t let the crowd get quiet, and don’t crack under the pressure of the first onslaught. It is imperative that the Impact get on the board, but particularly important to do it early. This seems obvious, but our team is going to be under a significant amount of pressure as the TFC attack is more agile and youthful. The later into the game this goes, the higher chance fatigue and the hard Big O surface will beat down our elder statesmen. Our bench is not populated by the highest quality of defensive reinforcements, nor transition type players. We need to be one goal up, or nil-nil, by the time we see King Drogba on the pitch for his final Montreal farewell. Hopefully, we’ll see him waving on the championship parade float before he goes, holding the Philip F. Anschutz trophy on his head as the last crown in his collection.

Noah Markowicz:

1. Get Oduro involved early and often: The key to unlocking a defence that is playing 3 in the back is by forcing their center backs into wide positions to cover threats on the wings. If the Montréal Impact can consistently find their wing players open in space, it could serve to free up either Mancosu or Drogba into potential one 1 v 1 situations in and around the box.

Both Piatti and Oduro will be the key wing players to watch in the contest, but considering that TFC will be focusing more of their attention and neutralizing the ever dangerous Piatti, Oduro will be the player who more than likely will have better matchups to do damage on the right side of the attack.

2. Force TFC into attacking through the middle: This is slightly counter intuitive, since normally you want your defence to force an opponent into low percentage crosses from the wings, but since those low percentage crosses seem to be the death of the Impact, I’d like to see them fight hard to make TFC try and beat them through the middle.

The strength of the team defensively over the last month or so has been the play of their central defensive players, both at the back and in midfield, notably Laurent Ciman, Victor Cabrera, Marco Donadel and Hernan Bernardello. All four have done a good to great job of tackling and keeping their opponents in front of them. Forcing TFC to funnel their attacks through the middle will at least give IMFC an opportunity to defend with their best defensive players, and limit the opportunities for aerial attacks, which Montreal have struggled mightily with all season.

3. Avoid 1 v 1 situations with Altidore in the box: Something tells me that though Giovinco is clearly TFC’s best player, Altidore is the player that can hurt IMFC the most. A dominant physical threat, the big American striker has been in good form of late, and Montréal can’t afford to let him have time and space in the box.

Despite Giovinco’s ability to nutmeg defenders and score from nearly anywhere around the box, I’d rather give up those type of chances then the alternative, which is Altidore being single-marked in the area and overpowering Montreal’s smallish backline.