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Over The Hump - MLS Champions Outsmarted & Player Ratings

Reflecting Saturday’s victory at The Big O . . .

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact
Vargas scored the all-important winner in the 41st minute, the ball deflecting in off the unfortunate Hagglund.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Remi Garde took everyone by surprise on Saturday, at Stade Olympique, implementing a 3-5-2 formation which laid the ground for success in a first-ever battle of wits with TFC counterpart, Greg Vanney.

It’s only Part One of potentially five or more meetings between the sides this season, but the adaptability and nous shown by the French coach will have set his opposite number thinking; especially when you consider next time the teams clash, Montreal should be a stronger, more cohesive unit, after the arrival of player reinforcements.

TFC for their part, were missing their best defender, Chris Mavinga, midfielder Marco Delgado (both left on the bench), and another key component in Justin Morrow, who left the midweek game in Monterrey injured.

Garde’s changes were significant enough to suggest this formation was in his mind once convinced Impact’s latest addition at centre-back was ready for duty. Rod Fanni did splendidly well against a strike force more used to mauling and piercing Montreal defenses with its prolific shooting boots!

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact
Rod Fanni - the composed performance of a leader, which belied his 36 years and lack of match fitness.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The coach relied on his own intuition combined with trusted sources from home. “When you see a player still playing at 36, without having many injuries throughout his career, you can guess that he’s a great professional,” said Garde. “He loves this game and he’s very passionate. I verified this through a lot of phone calls with people I know in France, because I didn’t know Rod personally. I knew he needed more time, but I needed him today, and when I asked him he said of course I’m ready.”

And ready he was, not looking an inch of the player who hadn’t played 90 minutes for some eight or nine months.

Alternating between five in midfield and in defense, the Impact denied space normally found in these games by Altidore and Giovinco, to the extent the latter was forced deeper to become involved. And for Montreal, the deeper the little Italian dropped, the better.

Up front, Piatti and Vargas were paired for the first time, both players combining well for the game’s only goal. Those of us so far wondering what all the fuss was over the young Chilean, finally got to see. This was his best display yet. Piatti, was Piatti. That really needs no further explanation.

Hope remained for the visitors however, thanks to Montreal’s profligacy in front of goal. Piatti and Taider each had good chances to put greater daylight between the teams. Failure to turn chances into goals put extra pressure on the home rearguard.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact
Taider - had chances.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Teams don’t win championships without digging deep, and The Reds came on much stronger during the last third of the contest, particularly after the introductions of Delgado and Hasler for Hagglund and Aketxe. This was by some distance their best spell in the game. Vanney’s men did go close through efforts from Altidore, a Bradley strike that stung the palms of Bush, and a 20 yarder from Giovinco that fizzed past the post, having given Raitala the slip.

But the Impact’s defensive organisation held strong. When Giovinco stepped up 22 yards from goal to address one of his trademark free-kicks in added time, the shot was high and handsome, and with it went Toronto’s best chance to claim their first point of the season.

Player ratings and comment, as I saw it . . . .

Evan Bush – 7/10 – Continued his confident start to the season. Again looked commanding and made important stops from Giovinco, Bradley and Altidore, he even combined with Petrasso to prevent a goal.

Michael Petrasso – 6.5/10 – Still finding his feet, but a competent performance in which he tried as often as possible to get forward in support of attacks. Very alert in clearing Altidore’s late effort which was creeping in despite the best efforts of Bush.

Daniel Lovitz - 6/10 – Maybe not just as enterprising as in previous games, but played his part in a good all-round performance.

Jukka Raitala – 6/10 – Retained in the side as part of the new three-man central defense, and complemented Fanni and Cabrera. High levels of concentration needed throughout, resulting in an improved performance from previous weekend.

Victor Cabrera – 7/10 – Best game of the season to date. Has often struggled in the past when faced by Altidore and Giovinco, but came out on top on this occasion.

Rod Fanni – 7.5/10 – Clearly a leader. Provided an assurance rarely seen in the Impact defense in recent seasons. Dealt fantastically well in duels with the TFC danger-men. A performance which belied his 36 years, and lack of match fitness.

Samuel Piette – 8/10 – Best game since coming home to Montreal. Was a constant thorn in the side of the TFC midfield, none more so than Michael Bradley, whom he dispossessed frequently in the first half. Also, won possession to start the move for the decisive moment of the match. Confidence must be flowing after this display.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact
Piette - best game in Montreal colours . . .
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Saphir Taider – 7/10 – Again, put in a high-energy shift. Had two chances in the second-half to put the game beyond doubt, the second after combining with Piatti, but slipped the ball narrowly wide of the far post. The goals will eventually complement his undoubted presence.

Ken Krolicki – 5.5/10 – Covered his ground, worked hard defensively, but didn’t offer much offensively. Biggest game to date. Will be better for the experience.

Jeisson Vargas – 6.5/10 – Showed some useful touches and combined well with the more experienced Piatti. And of course, grabbed the winning goal, a well struck shot from 20 yards helped by a deflection off Hagglund. Looked more composed and assured after his goal. Another who will feel better after this performance.

Ignacio Piatti – 8/10 – A constant threat to the opposition, after a relatively quiet opening period. Sprung to life with the interval approaching. Had a couple of mazy dribbles which possibly deserved a better outcome. Set Vargas up for the goal and had a case for a penalty in the second-half.

Subs

Louis Beland-Goyette – 6/10 – Took over from Krolicki, a fresh pair of legs, just when Toronto was exerting pressure. Performed steadily and with discipline, helping his team to see the game out.

Marco Donadel (84) and Anthony Jackson-Hamel (90), neither played long enough to warrant a rating.