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Montréal Impact – A Week In Review: Good team, small margins

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IMFC beginning to show real signs of chemistry after 2nd straight win.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Montreal Impact
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Montréal Impact played arguably their best game of the season last night, defeating the New York Red Bulls by a score of 1-0. Despite a rocky start, Mauro Biello’s troops weathered the storm, and managed a goal off of a quick free kick to take all 3 points.

The win was Montreal’s second in a row, the first time they’ve accomplished that feat this season. By all accounts, there appears to be a degree of solidity in the team for the first time this year, thanks to a new signing (Dzemaili) and a re-shuffling of the deck in regards to personnel and formation. Early season starters such as Hernan Bernardello, Victor Cabrera, Dominic Oduro and Hassoun Camara have seen their minutes shrivel up, while Biello’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation has been thrown to the wayside for the 4-3-3.

The match versus Red Bulls showed why many have been crying out for real quality in midfield the last few years (forever?). The triumvirate of Marco Donadel, Patrice Bernier and Blerim Dzemaili were the best players on the pitch, from a work rate, quality and skill standpoint. In brief, they made everyone else on the team look better, and play better.

Weathering the storms

Twice in the contest the Montreal Impact went through a stretch where they found themselves outworked by New York, and for both stretches I thought the team as a whole contained the situation well.

In the first 10 minutes of the game, the Red Bulls ratcheted up the intensity and basically threw the kitchen sink at the Impact. This resulted in a couple of good chances, with one forcing a decent save from Evan Bush. Still, I found that overall, the team panicked less than usual. As seen on numerous occasions already this season, IMFC have fallen prey to lackadaisical starts, seemingly unprepared for how a team may come at them. This appeared to again be the case after five minutes, but Biello managed to rally the troops to match New York’s intensity level, while at the same limiting the errors caused by the Red Bulls’ high press.

Games against NYRB, specifically, are won or lost during these high intensity spurts, and yesterday Montreal fought hard to survive these onslaughts. Another one occurred in the second half near the 60-minute mark, where it appeared that the Impact were beginning to fatigue. The defence stayed the course however, and minutes later would take the lead off of Blerim Dzemaili’s first MLS regular season goal.

Game management

A few things stuck out during Saturday’s fine team effort, but the most important for me was game management. On the pitch, I thought the players were more selective with their attacks into New York’s final third, picking their spots better, rather than getting caught up in too high tempo an affair. Yes, Montreal have really nice counterattacking weapons, but the team cannot survive playing a break neck pace all game long.

One player who seemed to learn this lesson was Ambroise Oyongo ((at least for one game anyway). A problem for the Cameroonian this year has been his lack of attention to defence due to his over exuberance to get forward. Yesterday’s match showed a more heady Oyongo, focusing his attention on making the simple, smart play in the attacking third, giving him more energy to help on defence.

On a side note I find Duvall more able of the two to make galloping runs down the flank and still be present on defence. That said, I see Oyongo as the better defender of the two (With Duvall more adept offensively), so maybe Saturday’s game was precursor of things to come on how Biello deploys his fullbacks. A fun experiment might be to try a 3-4-3 (or 3-5-2) formation where Oyongo plays as a left CB and Duvall as a wide right midfielder.

I think Oyongo has all the tools required to mark the more flashy wingers in this league, but not when he wastes his energy in the offensive third. Duvall, meanwhile, is a constant threat on the right flank in space, but is a touch inconsistent with his defensive marking. Anyways, just food for thought.

The most obvious standouts on the night were the midfield trio of Dzemaili, Donadel and Bernier. Each contributed the kind of stability and level-headedness the midfield has lacked for most of this early season.

If you were looking for a reason to embrace Mauro Biello’s move to a more possession style of a play, these guys are it. Not only are they all extremely adept at keeping the ball well and making smart, decisive passes, but the slower pace of play allows them to conserve their energy for the entirety of a game. The counterattack style they had been playing was in a word, tiresome, for the viewers and the players. Sitting back and counterattacking all game long is draining, and even speedsters like Oduro have looked particularly gassed in the second half of matches this season.

A big reason why Montreal won their latest game was due to smarter, more under control attacks, which gave players like Bernier, Donadel and Dzemaili more energy in the important later stages of the game.

I’m singling out these players for a couple of reasons. One because they’re so important to the team’s success on both ends of the pitch, and two, because they are, at the moment, practically irreplaceable. Keeping them fresh for a full 90 minutes is one thing, but having a contingency plan when they’re not available is something else entirely. This of course goes back to the yearlong discussion of the team’s lack of quality depth, and why I cant get that excited when I see a nice performance like I saw on Saturday.

As I said months ago, the chances of a team not losing a key player or two to injury is practically nil, not to mention the games these players will miss due to international duty. I hate to invoke the dreaded and hated TFC here, but there’s something to be said for a team that can reel off impressive victories without their best players on the pitch. Could IMFC do that with the team they have currently assembled? I have my doubts.

Looking ahead to next game; international break

Starting this weekend we’ll see what the depth of this team is made of, when IMFC take on Kansas City without players such as the newly acquired DP Dzemaili, Ciman, Bernier, Oyongo, and Anthony Jackson-Hamel due to international duty. I’ll be honest, I’m not really looking forward to this one, especially if neither Ballou Tabla nor Matteo Mancosu can suit up.

I’ve really enjoyed the partnership of Ciman and Kyle Fisher, but to me, their recent excellent run of form has been a product of having a midfield in front of them that they trust. Ciman is good and has always been good, but he’s just one player. The lack of cohesiveness in midfield we’d previously seen had turned him into a lesser player; a player that began overcompensating for what he saw was lacking, and who started playing with a negative mentality.

Fisher, meanwhile, showed again on Saturday why he has taken over the reins as Ciman’s second in command at CB. The second-year pro seems to have an edge on Cabrera in a couple of areas, namely physicality and mentality. Mentality is a word I throw around a lot, but in this case I’m talking about a player’s focus and ability to manage a game’s ebbs and flows. I really like how Fisher stays within himself, sticks to the coach’s game plan, and limits big mistakes.

Unfortunately for both Ciman and Fisher, it will probably be a struggle this weekend, with a midfield containing the likes of Hernan Bernardello, Calum Mallace, and /or Adrian Arregui deployed in front of them. The strategy at least needs to remain the same: keep the ball, and remain as compact as possible. The inadequacies of this probable midfield will force the team to play more conservatively, but despite the drop off in quality, hopefully a semblance of continuity remains.