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Montréal Impact – A Week In Review: Dzemaili in, same problems persist

Is Biello to blame for always being too reactive?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Montreal Impact Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Wow, this is getting to be exhausting, IMFC fans. Having to write basically the same article every week or so, where I delve into the team’s ongoing struggles with the same exact issues… I’m sure you’re all as sick and tired of this as I am. Montréal lost again, this time to the Columbus Crew, who were playing their second game in four days. Montreal, for what seems like the umpteenth time this season, started the game horribly, figured it out in the second half, then blew it at the end. It makes for somewhat exciting viewing (if you enjoy having your heart in your throat), but ultimately the result is all that counts, and all anyone will remember.

Biello needs to be more proactive

I’m not sure what was going in Mauro Biello’s head when he decided to play a 4-2-3-1 (which is not winning them shit this season) with new DP Blerim Dzemaili playing CAM (he’s really not an attacking midfielder). We get a new shiny player whose best attributes are passing and ball possession, and we put him in a position where he barely touches the ball the entire first half.

Meanwhile, the two players who have the task of controlling the midfield through a combination of good ball retention, tackling and distribution, are probably your two worst players on the pitch. To no one’s surprise (outside of Mauro Biello?) the Impact were down 2-0 within 30 minutes, and by halftime half of the defensive midfield was out of the game and the formation changed to a 4-3-3.

Patrice Bernier came on in the second half and immediately made a difference, holding the ball far better than starter Adrian Arregui, and completing far more passes (decisive or otherwise). As far as how Bernier has been used of late, I’m not in total disagreement with the coach. I don’t mind him coming off the bench and putting in a solid 30 minute shift where he can really go all out. That said, I’d prefer him to start games in a 4-3-3 on the right side of midfield. Hopefully once Biello comes around to reality, that’s exactly where we’ll see him, with Dzemaili on the left and Donadel in the middle.

There were two big things I noticed with the formation change, one positive, the other negative. It was evident that the offence began to click almost immediately, which sure, was a product of Columbus sitting back, but they began to sit back because IMFC’s offence was humming. Columbus’ game plan all along was to sit back, absorb pressure, and counter attack. That’s exactly what they did in the first half; it just didn’t look like that because Montreal’s attacks were horribly orchestrated.

The bottom line for me is that IMFC do not look better defensively playing a more defensive system like a 4-2-3-1. They might look better if they had good defensive midfielders, but they don’t. Biello is still (how many times must we go over this!) living in a dream world in regards to his midfield. Maybe he’s living in a parallel universe where we’ve won all the games we’ve drawn, and drawn all the games we’ve lost. In any event, Montreal will probably be as good defensively in a 4-3-3 as they are in a 4-2-3-1, with much better offence. Except…

If the fullbacks overcommit offensively, the defence will suffer, as we saw with the Crew’s game winner late on. It’s as if Montreal never practice playing a 4-3-3, or again, Mauro Biello thinks he has two stalwart defensive fullbacks (he doesn’t). While The TVA Sports guys were analyzing Kyle Fisher’s positioning on a 4-on-2 counter attack goal, IMFC’s fullback were either horribly out of position (Ambroise Oyongo) or struggling to get back into position (Chris Duvall).

This begs the question: in a 2-2 game, with your offence dominating, why are you throwing two defenders into deep offensive positions when you barely need them? It’s as if Biello forgot to tell them that one or both of them no longer needed to attack anymore. Not to mention the fact that by the time the goal was scored, IMFC had zero defensive mids on the pitch. In essence, they were playing a 2-5-3 with no defensive mids, which is, yeah, insane.

With the information we have, you have to blame the coach for all this, because he needs to be the one who keeps a clear head, and have the foresight to see trouble around the corner. It’s as if with his team’s clear domination of the ball in the second half, he had somehow forgotten what a sieve they are defensively. You can blame the players all you want, but the coach has to know what each of his player’s capabilities are, qualities and weaknesses, and keep them focused for 90 minutes. Unless, of course, he is doing that and the players aren’t listening to him, which is another thing entirely.

Bad players are more important… than great players?

I recently listened to a fantastic podcast called Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell (I highly recommend it to everyone), and in it he makes a soccer reference that fabulously encapsulates the Montreal Impact’s current problems.

Players such as Hernan Bernardello and Adrian Arregui are not very good, full stop. Players like these, who neither have great quality on the ball nor work that hard, are what are really keeping IMFC down, and as discussed in Revisionist History, it really comes down to the nature of the game.

In the podcast, a pair of economists argue that the difference between soccer and basketball is that one (soccer) is a weak link game and the other (basketball) is a strong link game. The question posed is a simple one: what matters most in building a good team in soccer or basketball? How good your best players are, or how good your worst players are? Basketball, they explained, is a strong link game because your best players can flat out win you game after game, sometimes on their own. Le Bron James and Michael Jordan are not relying on their team’s worst players to win them games, and they have the rings to prove it. In soccer, it’s the opposite. The best player absolutely needs the other 10 guys on the pitch to be good, or else all his talent and skill is wasted. Lionel Messi can’t just pick the ball up from his goalie and waltz through the defence and score. He needs a number of passes from quite possibly all of his teammates to put him into a position to do something brilliant.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. The Montreal Impact are currently suffering from having too many weak link players on their team. Ignacio Piatti, though he tries at times, cannot gallop down the pitch and score on his own. Maybe he tries to do this so often, because he knows that there are too many weak link players on the team that will disrupt his brilliance.

In this last game (and maybe even for a few games now) we saw the same thing from Ballou Tabla. Unlike with Messi and Barcelona’s 10 other good to great players on the pitch, magicians like Tabla and Piatti are forced to change their game because the other players on their team bring them down. Instead of letting the game come to them, you often see them over play and over think a lot of simple things.

The addition of Dzemaili is fantastic, but unfortunately, the Impact still have far too many players on their roster that ostensibly cancel out their top talent. As I said in my last article(s), IMFC have a long way to go to build a top MLS team, and it begins with their own self-analysis of what they have. How long it will take for them to see that there are glaring weaknesses in a number of areas is anyone’s guess, but when they do, the player pool to which they can dip into to address their needs is endless.

MLS may be played in North America, but it’s not a North American sport. It’s a world sport, with players you can potentially sign coming from literally anywhere. There are players on this team that should have been replaced years ago like Evan Bush and Hassoun Camara, but out of some strange loyalty, they’re still here. These players have won the club nothing, and they’ve never really excelled at their respective positions.

If Montreal holds on to the sort of small market approach the Montreal Expos held on to in the last few years of their existence, they’ll never achieve anything. And compared to baseball, it’s not even that hard to be competitive and make the playoffs in the MLS. The organization, from Saputo down to Biello, need to come to grips with what reality they’re currently living in, and react accordingly, because right now they’re living in 2012, and it’s really depressing.