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Montréal Impact – A Week In Review: Defensive struggles continue

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Didier Drogba goes down after a heavy challenge in IMFC's wild, 4-4 draw with the Crew on Saturday.
Didier Drogba goes down after a heavy challenge in IMFC's wild, 4-4 draw with the Crew on Saturday.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Montréal Impact rescued a point versus the Columbus Crew on Saturday, bringing their streak of draws to three in a row. The Impact also saw their streak of games without clean sheet climb to five, conceding six goals in the past two contests.

With the offense starting to click, IMFC need to tighten up on the defensive end if they want to return to their winning ways.

The fullback position: IMFC's biggest area of weakness

To put it bluntly, the game versus Columbus was a horror show for both Maxim Tissot and Ambroise Oyongo. The goals weren’t all on them, but both fullbacks struggled all game long to contain the Crew’s wide players.

The issue is not with either Oyongo or Tissot’s work rate. Both players I found worked hard to the very end against Columbus, exhibiting a lot of fight. Tissot for instance, made many of his best plays near the end of the contest, so durability and fighting spirit aren’t problems.

I would go further and say both players are quite good in 1 v 1 battles, meaning that when an opposing player tries to take them on, they usually manage to come out on top with a good tackle or clearance.

The problem, then? Well, basically everything else.  A term that I like to use from basketball is something called, "off the ball" coverage. Meaning, what is the player doing when he’s not covering the ball carrier? All night long, I saw both Tissot and Oyongo both failing to anticipate the Crew’s offensive movements, either due to ball watching or not picking up a run by one of the Crew’s wide players.

A perfect example of this was on the penalty Marco Donadel conceded for the 4th Crew goal. Both Oyongo and Cabrera didn’t pick up the quick free kick that led to Donadel being forced into 1 v 1 battle in the box with Justin Meram.  Sure, Donadel is your deep-lying midfielder, but he shouldn’t be the one to track back and cover a winger’s run.

Another problem is overall physicality that both players lack. In fact, the defence as a whole lacks the kind of grit and physicality that a prospective MLS Cup winner needs. The only player that has consistently shown a gritty, combative nature is Donny Toia, and his absence is a major reason why the defence has suffered of late.

As crazy as it sounds, I’d rather have a healthy Toia over every other defender on IMFC’s roster at the moment. Whereas the central defence is fairly deep with Ciman, Cabrera, Lefevre, and Camara, the FB position barely has any suitable replacements and is severely lacking a veteran presence.  When you start to look at the big picture, the prospect of losing a Toia long term (knock on wood) starts to become increasingly worrisome.

Trade Bait?

If I’m Adam Braz (or whoever’s in charge of player transfers and trades) I would look at the FB situation (yes, it is a situation) and begin scouring the MLS and abroad for a deal.  When you look at the Impact, you see a team with a glut of midfielders that range from not bad to very good. Only a few are indispensable to the team’s success, but on the flip side, all are serviceable MLS players who I think can help just about any team in the league.

At the moment Montréal have upwards of 14 players who can play 5 different midfield/wing positions. Though I’ll be the first to argue that you need as many midfielders as possible to succeed, the Impact are blessed with a good balance of talent and experience in this area that makes certain players expendable.

On the flip side, Montréal FB position has 4, maybe 5 players who can play 2 positions. One of those players, Tissot, has been playing wide midfield for over a year and is clearly out of practice at LB.  Hassoun Camara can cover at RB, but he’s a natural central player (either in defence or midfield). The same goes for Victor Cabrera, who played a bit of RB for the Impact early last season, but none since then.

What you’re left with are 2 fullbacks in Toia and Oyongo, both who are relatively inexperienced and not without their faults.  To me, that is not an ideal situation going forward, and we’re already seeing the consequences.

Should the Impact then not look to shed one of their midfielders for a fullback that can either start or be used off the bench? In this blogger’s view, it’s a bit of no-brainer.

Shipp lost at sea

For whatever reason, Harrison Shipp has not really arrived yet with the Montréal Impact. Maybe it’s a question of fitting in with a not-so-American team, one that might speak more French and Spanish on the pitch then English. Then there’s the fact that the player is probably still homesick. It’s never easy to be traded, especially when it’s from your hometown team to a different country altogether.

Whatever the reason, it’s going to take Shipp scoring a goal or making a key pass that will get him to feel more comfortable in his surroundings.

Like any other sport, football is a confidence game, and right now Shipp is lacking it in spades. Having watched him play with Chicago, I think it’s just a question of fitting in with his new squad, finding chemistry with certain players like Ignacio Piatti and Didier Drogba.

A player like Lucas Ontivero, for instance, seems to have developed immediate chemistry with Piatti, and the fact that they’re both Argentinian is, in my mind, not a coincidence. After Piatti scored the team’s first goal on Saturday versus the Crew, he ran past all of his teammates on the pitch to hug Ontivero on the bench. The fact that there’s already that kind of comraderie between the two players makes me strongly believe that Ontivero’s transition to the IMFC squad was much easier than Shipp’s.

It might be a bit of tough road ahead for the Chicago-native, but he’s just going to have to play through it. Head coach Mauro Biello can at least help out his young star by continuing to play him centrally.  The key for Shipp is finding his comfort zone, and that will not be achieved by playing out wide.