Aaaaaaaaaand we’re back! After suffering the doldrums of a long winter break, the Montreal Impact finally took to pitch this past Sunday in Vancouver, winning in exciting fashion by a score of 3-2.
The game was filled by highs and lows to be sure, but I’d argue that there were much more of the "high" variety. I’ll get to the game analysis in a moment, but first, I’d like to discuss the elephant in the room (no pun intended): Dider Drogba.
Et tu, Braz?
I think there were a lot of people who came away from the Didier Drogba press conference last week with the feeling that the player was, in short, either being a big baby, and/or forcing his team to act on his every whim. If you’re like me, and actually have a pretty good radar for things like, say, body language and say, actual words, then you came away from the presser with a completely different point of view.
Bottom line is this: after listening to what both Adam Braz and Didier Drogba said, it became clear to me that they were on the same page, and have been all along.
A lot of people were shocked and angered by the team’s admission that Drogba would miss 4 out of the first five games on turf, and took to social media to express their unhappiness towards the Ivorian. During the early moments of the presser though, who would you say looked the most shocked or annoyed?
Surprisingly, it was the last person you’d expect, Didier Drogba. His beef? Simply put, he explained that he and the Impact brass had known for months that he would not play these initial games on turf, and he honestly couldn’t believe the people interviewing him didn’t know about it.
Ok he may not have said those words exactly, but it was all implied. The media then went on to ask him a bunch of unnecessary questions about his commitment to the team and where his heart was (here or Chelsea), and in the end it was pretty much all just a waste of everyone’s time.
The real issue here has much less to do with Drogba, and more with how the Impact management dealt with this whole turf fiasco. Even then, I sympathize with the club and the situation they were in. Imagine you’re Adam Braz, and you know full well that your star player is not going to play the first 2 games of the year at home. Sure it’s only 2 games, but think of the potential consequences if you prematurely tell fans (specifically season ticket holders) that Drogba is going to miss these games. How many thousands of tickets don’t get sold? It’s a dangerous game to play of course, because you’re risking losing fans for being dishonest, but then again, if your Braz, maybe you can just say you weren’t 100% sure if he would play or not?
So no harm, no foul, right? Well not really, because instead of IMFC being scrutinized on twitter and other media outlets, they were made out to be the victims in all of this, with Drogba the villain. Drogba is a big boy and he’ll shrug off the criticism, but I at least hope the team apologizes to him behind closed doors for putting him in that position.
Piatti locked in, Oduro active
Enough about Drogba then, and on to the good stuff, ya? Let me begin with the starman of the contest, Mr. Ignacio Piatti. Yes, I’ve been hard on Nacho in the past. Too much dribbling, too little passing, too much me, me, me. In my defense, I only picked on him because I knew he could be better, and that it was frustrating to see him overdo things on the pitch.
On Sunday though, everything seemed to click, and the big difference I saw was his in his commitment to team-first play. We’d seen the mazy runs and the nutmegs before, so there was nothing new there (that nutmeg on Aird, tho). He’s always been a player who’s going to get his, but against Vancouver he did an incredible job of using his skill on the ball to find his teammates.
Maybe it’s simply a byproduct of Oduro being more on point with his runs this year, but Piatti was looking for the Ghanaian all day long. Besides his first goal where he held on to the ball and beat defenders, Piatti was thinking pass first the rest of the time, something that we didn’t often see last year.
Judging from how effective the Impact were in the final third, maybe Piatti's newfound mentality stems from excellent chemistry between him and the other men up front (Ontivero, Shipp and Oruro), as well as a better relationship with his coach. Watching how these players pinged the ball around the box, it’s clear that there’s a much higher level of creativity and skill this year. With that comes a lot of confidence I think, but also a lot of trust.
I thought this was going to be a very extremely exciting year on the offensive side of the ball, and thus far I haven’t been disappointed.
Great offence comes with great responsibility
Despite the brilliance I saw going forward, defensively the team needs to tighten up a few things. Piatti had a great match across the board, even defensively. I bring this up now because he’s not always one who is terribly interested in tracking back, partly why he I think Biello played him centrally on Sunday instead of on the wing. Shipp played there in his stead, and though I liked his work rate, he didn’t really harry ball carriers as much as I would have liked. The same can be said about Ontivero.
Both Ontivero and Shipp are more talented than Duka and Romero, but the former two lack (or lacked) the commitment to defence that the latter two consistently showed last season.
In Sunday’s affair, I thought one of the Impact's biggest weaknesses was dealing with long balls from the flanks to Vancouver’s forwards in space, and I think that had a bit to do with the defensive awareness of IMFC wingers and attacking players. It’s not a huge criticism because often these long cross-field passes need to be pitch perfect to be effective, but it’s a detail to be cleaned up nonetheless.
Ciman and Cabrera struggle with man-marking
Usually I have very little criticism to throw at either player, and overall they were quite good. In truth, I think they both suffer from the same shortcoming and that’s that they sometimes lose their man on aerials in the box.
In Cabrera’s case, he simply got out-muscled by Kendall Waston on a number of occasions, and it finally resulted in a goal against in the 93rd minute. As for Ciman, he allowed Rivero to go unmarked in the box midway through the 2nd half that led to a surefire scoring chance (nullified by Bush).
Both were sure in the tackle and generally made all the necessary clearances, but were found a bit wanting with coverage in the box.
Toia and Oyongo meanwhile I thought were as solid as you could ask for. Both tracked up and down the flanks to great effect, and were rarely beaten 1 v 1 by Whitecap attackers.
Overall, I thought the Impact defence was solid, and that the chances created by Vancouver were made out of individual moments of brilliance more than IMFC breakdowns.
Bush shows no rust
Last but not least, I thought Evan Bush was particularly solid between the posts. He made timely saves to keep his team ahead, and it’s tough to criticize on him on either goal.
Pedro Morales has one of the best deliveries of set piece takers in the game, and as much as you’d like to see Bush react quicker on the Harvey goal, it’s whipped in with such pace that you can forgive him for being a step slow. You could split hairs about who’s at fault on the second goal, but to me it’s simply Waston winning an aerial duel over Cabrera.