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Montréal Impact – A Week In Review: Highs and Lows

IMFC giveth, IMFC taketh away

Montreal Impact v Chicago Fire Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Coming into this season, my expectations were much lower than they’ve been in recent times. Despite IMFC’s hot playoff run to a near MLS Cup final, I had no delusions of grandeur regarding the fate of the Bleu-Blanc-Noir in 2017.

Despite the entire league seemingly getting better, IMFC decided to go with a status quo approach. No big signings were made (outside of Blerim Dzemaili, who will be here sometime between mid-May and October?), and many positions were left with little to no cover.

Yes, the management gave the central midfield a boost with an aggressive Argentinian operator in Adrian Arregui, and traded for a talented (real) RB in Chris Duvall. Besides that though, the other signings were papering-over-the-holes type moves. I do like Daniel Lovitz, actually, maybe more than Ambroise Oyongo (meet in the alley if you wanna go), but that is not a move that screams “contender.”

All in all, IMFC have greatly relied on what they already have, and the results have shown that what they have is not really good enough. Not to be completely negative, because I have seen a number of positive things, but the biggest weakness that we saw throughout 2016 is still the biggest weakness in 2017: the defence.

IMFC center backs: Weakest in the league?

This is not a statement, I’m actually just asking: Are they the worst? If I could think of one word to sum up the CB play up to this point, I would go with… erratic. Because it’s not like Laurent Ciman, Hassoun Camara and Victor Cabrera haven’t had nice moments. They have. The problem is that they are incredibly inconsistent, and suffer too many lapses in focus from game to game.

A lot of this could be the coach’s fault, but unfortunately there’s things we’ll never really know. Like was it the coach’s idea to keep a high line for the entire game against Chicago, or was it Camara and Cabrera’s? You’d think after the first couple of through-balls that put a Fire attacker behind the defence for a breakaway chance, that the team might change tactics, but no. Even after IMFC went up a man in the second half, somehow the Fire got in behind the defence again, this time forcing Cabrera to take a red card to stop a sure goal. The Impact CB pairing got beaten with through-balls or balls over the top on 5 occasions in the match, twice when a man up. That’s just unacceptable in my opinion.

To me it’s as much on Mauro Biello as it is on the defenders in question. Sure, the defenders should be able to anticipate when a play falls apart in midfield and have to start tracking back, but Biello should also manage game situations better, and know when to adjust to a more conservative approach.

Playing a high line also means the goalie must play high up as well, in the role of a sweeper keeper which is so en vogue of late (see Manuel Neuer). If Biello wants to continue playing this way, Bush must adjust his game as well, play much higher up the pitch, and do a better job of anticipating balls behind the defence.

Duvall and Lovitz: new guys provide positivity

Chris Duvall is an upgrade at RB over Camara; anyone who wants to argue with me, the meet-me-in-the-alley offer still stands. Lovitz is Toia 2.0; it’s funny, but they literally are almost the exact same player (the only difference being Lovitz has a famous dad: see City Slickers). Each player offers something different from the fullback position, but both are effective.

Duvall is fast and athletic like Oyongo, but unlike Oyongo, actually makes crosses that result in scoring chances (or goals) and dribbles the ball in a controlled, intelligent manner. In the Chicago game, he created about 4 scoring chances, recorded an assist on the tying goal, and had the hockey assist (not given) on the second goal. Offensively, just based on his decision-making and quality, he’s a huge upgrade.

Defensively, the jury is still out. He can get a bit wild (as we saw with the unnecessary tackle he made that resulted in a close-in free kick) and someone could argue that both goals were at least partially his fault. I could watch the replay on both those goals and point out other culprits, though (I’m still in the alley waiting for anyone).

Bottom line, this Duvall dude looks slick and plays like a real RB. Unlike other RB’s we’ve put out there, he doesn’t get beaten for pace on the flanks, and doesn’t slow down over 90 minutes. You can excuse the odd times he fails to close down an attacker outside the box or gets his lines crossed with his CB to cover someone in the box. These are normal mistakes that every player in the world makes.

I love me some Lovitz. Plays the game simply and aggressively. Doesn’t attack too much, but doesn’t make mistakes either. To me, he’s the perfect guy to put with Ignacio Piatti, who wouldn’t pass to him even if he made himself available on the flank.

Best thing about Lovitz? The way he comes back and bails out the central defenders on crosses. Remind you of someone? I’ll give you a clue, his name rhymes with Boia!

Tabla: the dawn of a new era in Canadian football?

I don’t want to get ahead of myself but… damn that was impressive. The 18-year-old wonderkid with 7 names (they gotta come up with a catchy nickname for him) did pretty much everything right in his first start for the Impact. Besides the goal, where he finally decided to throw caution to the wind and shoot, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla (that long-ass name tho) was a dangerous creator on the left side all game long. He’s tricky, elusive, and very unselfish, something that the impact are lacking up front. No offense to Piatti, who does it all for Montreal, but as much as he creates chances, he also wastes chances, and a wasted chance can often turn into a counterattack the other way.

In the game against Chicago, Tabla finished his offensive forays with positive intent, meaning a pass or a shot that gave his team a real scoring chance. To me that kind of play is an upgrade over just about anyone, including Piatti. For one game at least (because who knows what Tabla will look like next week), that was exactly what you want out of winger.

Will lessons be learned for Galaxy match?

Friday’s tilt will see the Impact head on the road again, this time to Los Angeles. It appears as though Piatti will miss out again, giving Tabla another go at LW, which of course we all should be excited about. What we shouldn’t be excited about is how the Impact backline will look, but one would hope they play more conservatively this time around, or at the very least, more organized and prepared for the inevitable quick counter.

One thing I didn’t talk about that I thought was a bright spot from the Fire draw was the tidy yet aggressive play of the midfield triumvirate of Marco Donadel, Hernan Bernardello, and Arregui. Whether it’s this trio, or Patrice Bernier back in, I’m looking forward to more of the same against the Galaxy.

One player who needs to regain his late season form is Dominic Oduro on the right side. Now that he has a fullback that he can play off of, there should be more opportunities for him to make runs in behind the defence.