After watching the Montreal Impact almost predictably crumble this past weekend, in one of the team’s more frustrating losses of the year, I was kind of beside myself. Another game with another ugly defensive performance. Another game where the players and coaches came out saying how they had to be better on the defensive end, had to show more effort, more initiative, bla bla bla. The question is: Can they actually be better than this? Forget the will and desire; do they have the roster to overcome their issues? I wonder.
Ciman le Génerale?
Sorry, I know I’ve gone through this diatribe before, but man, Laurent Ciman is not leading this team right now, and to win, he needs to. He looks good for the Belgian national squad, but I’m guessing that’s because he’s not relied on to be the guy who cleans up the team’s messes. On IMFC he is though, and clearly he’s not the guy for the job. I don’t think this is actually on Ciman. It’s on management for forcing him to take on more responsibility than he’s probably used to. This goes back to the organization’s fatal error of not improving the centre back position this winter, but I digress.
The only way this season can be turned around from a defensive standpoint (if the personnel stays the same) is if Ciman changes his mindset and style of play. The saying is you can’t teach a dog new tricks, but in my opinion, Ciman can’t keep playing like a sweeper-type CB if the Impact want to succeed. He has to play smarter, he has to stay on his feet, he has to play like a rock. No one else has the wherewithal, including the keeper, to cover for his risky tackles and dribbles, so he has to just stop playing that way, full stop.
Elsewhere on defence, besides a nice performance from Kyle Fisher versus Vancouver, the rest of the defence was poor. I like Duvall more than Oyongo, but at the end of the day these dudes are really quite similar; they like playing offence way more than defence. Again, this is not really their fault. This is just who they are. They would both be more effective as wing backs (wide mids in 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formations), but with Biello’s reluctance to change tactics, that’s not happening any time soon. If IMFC had a rock steady CB pairing along with ball winners in midfield, both their defensive roles would be minimized, but that’s not nearly the case.
Who’s really in charge here?
Montréal is where they are at the moment (10th in the East, 20th overall) for a few reasons, but most of all because of management’s failure to make a proper assessment of the team at the end of last season.
To put it bluntly, IMFC’s playoff run that saw them make it to the conference finals was more mirage than oasis. What was more relevant was the fact that they finished the season in 5th place with a .500 record, and gave up more goals than they scored. The clichéd saying of “anything can happen in the playoffs” came to fruition, but if they used this playoff run as a deciding factor for future organizational moves, well then they were extremely nearsighted and just plain naive.
For two playoff series’ versus DC United and NYRB, the Impact successfully played a counter attack style that gave them two victories, but for the season, this wasn’t really a successful strategy. For the most part, Montreal struggled with this tactical strategy that saw them concede possession, so much so that they gave up 53 goals, the second most goals they’d given up since joining the MLS.
This is where things get a little muddled for me, making me start to wonder if there’s a disconnect between the coach and upper management.
Mauro Biello actually sees what I see; that IMFC can’t remain a purely counter attack club. He has reiterated since the beginning of this season that the team needs to become way more of a possession-oriented club, a club that needs to be the aggressor and not play on the back foot.
If that’s the case though, why are we looking at basically the same players from last year? The exact same players that struggled all of 2016 to keep possession of the ball are largely the starters for 2017. To me that suggests that the team’s management either told Biello to figure it out with the same players, or convinced him that they were good enough.
Beyond the obvious problems the team has, (set piece defence/offence, defensive physicality, midfield linkup play, physical conditioning) there is still the issue of who is in control of this team, meaning who decides how the team is shaped. Normally it’s the coach who’s in control, who tells management how he wants to play and what kind of players he needs to make that happen.
From what I can glean, Mauro Biello either has no control whatsoever or is seriously delusional about what a quality footballer is. Hernan Bernardello is not quality; both Patrice Bernier and Marco Donadel have difficulty keeping the quality together for a full 90; Dominic Oduro is a pure counter attacker, nothing else; Matteo Mancosu is a poor man’s Marco Di Vaio, a player that is looking for one borderline offside call to go his way. Even their best player, Ignacio Piatti, is a kind of anti-possession player, a player that seemingly refuses to use his teammates to open up opportunities for himself.
All this to say that if the coach and management were really on the same page, clear upgrades would have (should have) been made to the roster coming into this season. What frightens me is that they actually are all on the same page, and they think what they have is good enough.
Look around the league, watch some other teams play. Whatever IMFC currently is, it’s far from good enough. Sadly, adding one designated player is not going to magically solve this team’s problems. If they really wanted to make Mauro Biello’s vision a reality, it wasn’t a bit of fine tuning that they needed; it was an overhaul.