The Montreal Impact took a road trip down the infamous 401 to face off versus their arch rivals: Toronto FC. The Impact have been struggling of late as they have conceded 3 times in 2 of their last 3 matches. The Impact were in desperate need of an all Canadian Classico to motivate them to elevate their play and get them back on track to make a strong push down the final stretch of the regular season. However, beating TFC was not going to be an easy task.
Toronto was the hottest team in the league coming into Saturday's match with their star striker, Jozy Altidore, firing on all cylinders. To make matters worse, the Impact were taking on their bitter rivals on their home turf: the daunting BMO Field. TFC had only lost a single home game all season prior to Saturday: in May versus the Vancouver Whitecaps. Also, IMFC had never won a single match in the cavernous BMO Field.
When the match started, it was clear that Toronto was going to do their best to dominate possession and systematically break down the Impact's back four. However, Mauro Biello's men entered the match with a precise game plan: they were going to play with 10 men behind the ball, dare TFC to break them down and wait for their opportunities on the counterattack.
Biello's plan took a major set back in the 43rd minute when Calum Mallace leveled TFC's Steven Beitashour with a WWE style hit. Amazingly, the Impact were still able to strike on the counter and then bunkered down deep in their own half for the remaining 18 minutes to eek out a hard fought 1-0 win. Here are my thumbs up and thumbs down for the Montreal Impact's first ever win at BMO Field.
Back Four: With the stay at home style of play the Impact opted to use on Saturday night, the back four needed to be masterful to keep their opponents off the scoresheet and that is exactly what the Impact's back four, consisting of Ambroise Oyongo, Laurent Ciman, Hassoun Camara and Donny Toia did.
From the opening kick, TFC were constantly applying pressure on our back four. It was clear that any mistake would directly result in TFC going up by a goal. A testament to the fact that Montreal's back line played perfect soccer was the fact that Toronto finished the match with a big fat goose egg showing on the scoreboard.
Ambroise Oyongo started the match by marauding up and down his left flank. This forced TFC to keep bodies back to defend and alleviated the pressure on his defensive teammates. In the 2nd half when the situation no longer called for Oyongo to play offensively, he understood this and the Cameroonian international stayed back to help weather the storm. Oyongo confidently cut off crosses and eliminated space from Toronto's attackers. Oyongo also racked up the stats to prove he was dominant. The fullback finished the match with 4 tackles, 2 blocked shots, 2 interceptions inside the Impact's box, 7 clearances and 3 recoveries.
Laurent Ciman was just as impressive as his Cameroonian counterpart. The Belgium international once again proved his compatibility with fellow center back Hassoun Camara. On Saturday, the two made a living cutting off TFC's passes with perfectly timed tackles. The two also kept a cohesive line to play the offside trap and stayed close enough to prevent the through ball. All in all, the duo played exceptionally well and combined to accumulate 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, a staggering 10 clearances and 5 recoveries.
Donny Toia was not as visible as his fellow fullback as he did not participate much in the attack. However, he was just as instrumental to the clean sheet as his fellow defenders. The feisty young American expertly anticipated and dealt with TFC's passes. He was relentless in his pressuring of the ball carrier on the right side of the pitch but he also picked up his man in the box. Even though Toia was pressuring the ball carrier out wide and eliminating time and space from TFC's forwards, he did not overcommit and maintained good spacing with the rest of the back line. Impressively, Toia accumulated 5 tackles, 1 interception, 8 clearances and 6 recoveries.
The Impact's back four played skillfully and were able to nullify a very dangerous Toronto attack even after the Bleu-Blanc-Noir went down a man. The MLS recognised our back four's strong showing by nominating Camara to the MLS team of the week Performance Ratings:
Ambroise Oyongo: 9/10
Laurent Ciman: 8/10
Hassoun Camara: 9/10
Donny Toia: 8.5/10
Hernan Bernardello: After a strong showing by the Impact, I would like to highlight only one element in thumbs down and that is Bernardello's transition play. The defensive midfielder played a very strong defensive game by patrolling in front of our back line and that is not what I want to critique.
We brought back Bernardello to help out defensively but most importantly to assure a rapid transition between the Impact's defensive and offensive players. However, the transition aspect of his game has disappointed me. I find that Bernardello takes too much time with the ball at his feet in the midfield instead of quickly relaunching the Impact's attack. Bernardello attempts to find the perfect pass and be in his own pocket space before firing away the ball. This takes much too long and either slows down our transition or he winds up getting dispossessed.
Other than that, I was quite content with our new Argentinian's play.
Performance Rating: 6.5/10
This was a momentous match for our Montreal Impact. We fought back from a man down to beat the hottest team in the league in a stadium we have never won in before. And, we did all that versus our bitterest rivals. I believe that this can serve as a launch pad to propel the Impact towards a great run down the stretch towards the playoffs. The Impact hope that that run will start next weekend versus Orlando City SC when they visit Saputo Stadium on September 7th.