From the best game of the season, to possibly the worst. That describes the past two games for the Montreal Impact. After walking into BMO Field and taking a 1-0 win against Toronto FC, while a man down for the entire second half, the Impact got embarrassed Wednesday night at Saputo, losing 4-1 to Orlando City SC.
The win in Toronto had put them six points behind the New York Red Bulls for second in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand. They had also been six points clear of seventh-placed Orlando. After a string of losses and draws, this win was a positive sign for the Bleu-Blanc-Noir.
Much was expected from the team heading into Wednesday’s match-up, but the Lions just took over and made the Impact look like their 2014 form. The Impact was disorganised, undisciplined, not clinical, and just basically everything that sent them to the bottom of the table two years ago.
Now in fifth place, the Impact sits only five points out from seventh-placed D.C. United. They are a staggering six points behind third-placed Toronto, with both clubs playing the same amount of games.
With the Impact having its most roller-coaster season in its short MLS history, Mauro Biello and troops need to find how to fix its inconsistencies.
Inconsistencies from Piatti, Drogba
The most obvious inconsistent player on the Impact so far is the veteran, Didier Drogba. At 38-years-old, the Ivory Coast legend just cannot produce like he did during his time in England, or even during his magical stretch last season. After scoring 11 goals in his first 11 games for the Impact, Drogba has failed to score a goal in more than three straight games this season, and broke a five-game goalless drought Wednesday night. He has scored in only two of ten games since May 28th.
Besides his hat-trick against the Philadelphia Union on July 23rd, Drogba’s tank is empty, and there seems to be a lack of cohesion up front. Before the game Wednesday, when he took 9 shots, Drogba only took an average of 3.55 shots/game in the previous nine games. If the Impact wants to win, Drogba just cannot be taking three shots a game. His drought is not entirely his fault, as he fails to get service some games.
The lack of service could be in part due to more inconsistent play from the number ten, Ignacio Piatti. He has those games where he plays like a world-class player, poised to battle Sebastian Giovinco for MLS MVP, and then he has those games where he becomes unnoticeable.
The games against TFC and Orlando are perfect examples of that. Against Toronto, he set up scoring opportunities in the first half, and was clinical on his only chance in the second half. Against Orlando, Piatti only had one shot, and the team’s 17 shots seem to have stemmed from the midfield, as opposed to out wide.
A reason for that could have been the inclusion of Amadou Dia at the left-fullback position, and Biello may have wanted his attack to generate from players like Kyle Bekker or Hernan Bernardello in the middle of the park. The Impact took 67% of shots from down the middle, an increase of their season average of 56% from the centre of the park.
Piatti and Drogba aren’t the only players on the attack who fail to put in the same results night-in and night-out. Dominic Oduro is as inconsistent as anybody on the Impact right now, and ever since the emergence of Michael Salazar, Oduro has gone dry.
Matteo Mancosu hasn’t scored since his winner against the Houston Dynamo on August 6th. He only has three starts in nine games, and plays as an alternate to Salazar and Oduro on the right wing and striker positions. He missed a few chances the past few games, including a clear opportunity against Orlando. The Italian needs to find the form he had when he first arrived in North America.
Other players like Salazar, Harry Shipp and Lucas Ontivero, who all enjoyed hot stretches at some point in the season, need to step it up. On paper, the Impact has offensive depth, but on the field, it seems like Piatti and Drogba are the ones asked to carry the load.
A Partner for Ciman
Another clear gap in the Impact line-up is a solid partner for Laurent Ciman. The 2015 MLS Defender of the Year played with Victor Cabrera, Hassoun Camara and Wandrille Lefèvre this season. Biello is still looking for a proper cohesive partner to shut down opposing offences.
The Impact has given up the fifth-most goals in the East with 42, including 10 in their last three losses. A season ago, they gave up only 44 goals, a clear indication how consistently strong the defence was, starting with Ciman and Evan Bush.
At this point, they cannot worry about that number just yet. Four of the bottom-six teams when it comes to goals against are in a playoff spot, including the team with the most goals against, New York City FC, who are in first.
The Impact needs to try to find cohesion at the back and not give up unnecessary goals, as some have been the past few games. Donny Toia is a solid fullback, but is it smart putting the left-footed player on the right side? He does not look comfortable clearing balls as a right-fullback.
The absence of Ambroise Oyongo clearly showed against Orlando, especially after his stellar effort against Toronto. Oyongo, who can play both sides with ease, allows Toia to push over to the left side, stabilising the line in the process.
When the defence has its normal back four, they are as solid as anybody, but when a piece is moved in, like Dia or Camara at centreback, the cohesion is lost. That is the only inconsistency the Impact backline is showing right now.
If the Impact wants to make the playoffs, and make a deep run, they need to turn things around right now. They cannot scrape through the rest of the season, and hope for magic come the post-season. 2013 is an example of that, and they did not go very far. The Impact inconsistencies need to be fixed now.