A win is a win and three points, but Saturday’s win against Toronto meant much more than that. With the Impact coming off probably their worst season in the MLS, TFC now MLS Cup Champions and making waves in the CONCACAF Champions League, this Canadian Classic was an important opportunity for Montreal to prove themselves. And prove themselves they did! The Reds may have enjoyed a lion’s share of the possession, but les Montréalais had the most, and by far the best, chances on goal. Although with some better finishing from both sides, the game could have ended with a much bigger score line. However, IMFC getting their first clean sheet of the season against a top attacking side is a testament to the team’s work on improving their defense.
One of the highlights of the game actually came during half-time. When asked how he was going to set up the team for the second half, Garde answered that the team would not sit back, that they will continue pushing forward and keep TFC away from their goal. This is exactly what the Bleu Blanc Noir have been missing: a coach who is not afraid to put his stamp on the game, who sets up his team to control and attack. This is how the team will stop losing games late on. The win was great, but the attitude and the chemistry building up in the squad makes us believe this may be a good season after all.
Now, let’s get on with the Virtuosos of Saturday’s Canadian Classic!
Virtuoso #1: Samuel Piette
Samuel Piette had a truly great game. He bossed the midfield and was a wall in front of the defense. Forget “the Bulldog”, his new nickname should be Sam “the Mugger” Piette. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single player make as many interceptions in a single game. Our little Quebecer may not have the best distribution, or the best skills on the ball, but the work he puts in undeniably makes the team better. He singlehandedly created 3 golden opportunities by impeccably timing his runs and intercepting passes in Toronto’s own half. Even the Impact’s lone goal started off with one of his interceptions.
Piette’s game is also incredible because his tackles often seem dirty and aggressive, yet ,most of the time, they are clean. It took Piette only 16 minutes to utterly frustrate Giovinco, who got carded for a retaliation tackle on the Impact midfielder. This type of play frustrates players, and frustrated players lose focus. Toronto’s star player clearly was not as influential as we know he can be, and that’s all thanks to… The Mugger!
Virtuoso #2: Jeisson Vargas
Vargas scored his first goal in MLS on Saturday, and almost added a second one, but it was ruled offside. The youngster displayed excellent positional awareness, making very good runs forward. His partnership with Piatti in a front two was very interesting, with the Argentine even assisting him for the goal. The Chilean showed off his skills, but what stood out the most was his proactiveness throughout the game. The Impact’s other strikers, Mancosu and AJH, often stay up front, waiting for someone to feed them a ball to finish. On the other hand, Vargas was all over the pitch, assisting on defense when needed, dropping deeper and starting off plays himself, or sticking to the lines and opening spaces for the likes of Piatti and Taīder.
Even though he usually plays as a winger, Vargas has shown he has the skills and vision to play in a central role with the Impact. And since their new signing, Alejandro Silva, also plays on the right wing, I believe we may see much more of Vargas as a center forward. An all South-American front line of Piatti – Vargas – Silva could very well become one of the deadliest attacks in Major League Soccer.
Virtuoso #3: Rod Fanni
The 36-year-old French defender made his Montreal Impact debut on Saturday, after over a year without playing any competitive football. Most people expected him to be rusty or to struggle with fitness during the game. He did the exact opposite. Strong in defense, he had Jozy Altidore in his pocket all game long. He was an imposing figure in the middle of the defense, and his experience was great to see. Rod was vocal with his teammates, guiding them and keeping them focused until the last whistle.
The French giant was also surprisingly composed on the ball, rarely – if ever – misplacing a pass or turning over possession. Unfortunately for the Impact, Rod is not a long-term solution, but a player of his profile is exactly what they need. For now, though, his leadership and experience will benefit the team greatly, and hopefully the youngsters will learn a lot from him.
Who do you think were the top performers? Let me know in the comments below, and as always, Allez Montréal!