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Montréal Impact – A Week In Review: Devil’s In The Details Edition

Montréal defeated the Columbus Crew 2-0 last week. Was it all perfect though? I'm here to rain on the parade just a little bit. Let's call it a drizzle ;)

The Montréal Impact neutralized Federico Higuain in their 2-0 win over the Crew.
The Montréal Impact neutralized Federico Higuain in their 2-0 win over the Crew.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Montréal Impact finally got back to their winning ways last Saturday, defeating the Columbus Crew 2-0. Despite creating numerous counterattack chances throughout the game, IMFC ended up scoring their goals in a slightly unorthodox fashion (for them at least): both on headers from crosses. Though there were many positives to take away from the game, it wasn’t as perfect as many may have thought.

Yes, I am here to point out problems in a win. Deal with it.

Defensive Awareness:  That was your man, no?

At the end of the first half my fellow MRS (Mount Royal Soccer) writer turned to me and said something to the tune of, "things look good for the second half, we definitely dominated them in shots and possession." Was he right? Absolutely. Was that the whole story? Not quite.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an extremely exciting first half as far as chances go, and Montréal had a good portion of them. Still, one had to be disappointed with the first clear-cut chance of the game that went to Columbus.

In the 14th minute, Crew LB Waylon Francis received a ball in acres of space on the left before delivering a simple pass to a wide open Kei Kamara in the box. Luckily for the Impact, Kamara’s first touch was subpar and he eventually popped it over the bar. A minute later Ciman made a great steal down the pitch and almost scored himself, making it easy to forget the Kamara near miss.

But let’s get back to that play then. Francis receives the ball with a ton of time and space because no Impact player is anywhere near him. Hassoun Camara is playing extremely central, maybe because he knows that he lacks the foot speed to stay with a speedy winger or fullback. When the ball goes out wide, Camara tries to make up the space but its far too late. The cross comes in and Ciman, who is shadowing Kamara, loses his man completely. Kamara missed, but he just as easily could have tapped it home for the opening goal.

I can give Camara an out on this play because it must have been part of the game plan to clog up the middle and force Columbus into crosses from wide positions. As the game went along I kept seeing these open spaces available to the Columbus players on the flanks, so it must have been by design. Why they would do this is another question, of course, since the Crew hurt Montréal the most from wing positions in the playoffs last year.

For better or worse the game plan was too slow down arguably Columbus’ most dangerous player, Federico Higuain, and overall one could say that plan worked quite well.

On the aforementioned play, Laurent Ciman’s lack of effort to track Kamara was a bit worrisome. It’s hard to believe that he thought the ball was going to be centered to anyone else besides the Columbus striker, but still, he noticeably slows up before the ball comes in only to see it land directly on Kamara’s foot.

This is not the first time I’ve seen Ciman be a tad lackadaisical in his coverage.  I’m nitpicking to be sure, but it’s these kinds of plays that turn a 2-0 win into a 1-0 loss very easily.

Another thing to note on that play is Lucas Ontivero is not following Francis’ run down the pitch. Ideally, the Columbus fullback is the man he should be paying close attention to, but he’s looking the other way when the pass is made out wide.

Last week, Ignacio Piatti made a similar faux pas when he let a Seattle player walk in all alone and take a shot just outside the box. It wasn’t a game changer, but there are definitely some kinks to iron out in the coming weeks with marking assignments.

Elsewhere, I though both Donny Toia and Harrison Shipp struggled to contain Ethan Finlay on the right side. The Columbus winger got in behind the Montreal defence on a few occasions, and easily could have scored or assisted on a couple of goals.

All in all, Montréal came away with a clean sheet, but there were several defensive letdowns that easily could have cost them the game.

Corner Gas

At the beginning of the game one of the announcers explained that the Impact had done a lot of work on corners.  Though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what they did differently, here’s what I liked from the their effort on Saturday:

For one, defensively they seemed to have a game plan, and that was making Kei Kamara’s life miserable on set pieces. Admittedly I’m not a big fan of Camara at fullback for IMFC, but his work in the box, both offensively and defensively, was fantastic versus Columbus.

Defensively he did a great job when covering Kei Kamara in the box. What he was able to do that both Ciman and Cabrera have struggled with a bit this year, was he got physical with the opposing team’s main target. On one corner in particular, I was impressed by how the Frenchman blocked off Kamara’s route to the ball in the air. Instead of trying to out-jump his mark, he simply didn’t allow him to get anywhere near the ball.

This kind of craftiness is what I’d like to see a bit more of from both Ciman and Cabrera in the future. It’s one thing to be excellent at anticipating both balls in the air and on the ground, but if you lose your man, it often results in a big time scoring chance or a goal. Camara brings a physicality and craftiness that the Impact overall lack.

From an offensive standpoint, the left/right partnership of Ontivero and Bekker was an improvement over prior weeks. Both players whipped in their corners with good pace, and they were rewarded for their efforts with Camara’s goal in the second half.

Even on a free kick by Johan Venegas late in the game, I thought he put it in a dangerous spot for the keeper to deal with. On set pieces like corners and free kicks from wide areas, the goal is usually not to aim for anyone in particular, but to put the ball in a dangerous area with enough pace and whip. You do that enough, and normally good things will happen.