On Saturday, the Montreal Impact met Atlanta at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in a match where no one, even the most optimistic fan, thought the former could win. The lineups were announced, and even the faintest hopes were erased. The Bleu Blanc Noir had a 4-3-3 formation with a makeshift back four consisting of Duvall, Camacho, Raitala and Lovitz, i.e. defensively questionable full-backs, a center-back who hasn’t adapted to the league yet, and a player brought in as a back up left-back playing center-back. How could they possibly do anything against the strongest front-three in the MLS?
Well, the first whistle kicked off the match, and Atlanta were immediately on the front foot, pushing up the pitch and controlling the match. But as the clock ticked, patterns became more obvious. Most of Atlanta’s attacks ended in crosses. Had they done their homework, and realized it was one of the Impact’s weaknesses? Maybe. But maybe that was also the Impact’s plan. They were being extremely organized in the defense, moving as a team, pressing as a team, closing space as a team. Atlanta had too much difficulty getting through the middle, so they had to play off the wings, sending in crosses into the box, and it just wasn’t working.
Just like the past few games, the Impact played a wonderful first half. A great move by Duvall on the right wing, off a throw-in, gave him the space and time to release a great cross down the middle. An unmarked and aware Saphir Taïder blasted it to the back of the net with a diving header. A good move, but even better opportunism, and the Impact were ahead. Over the course of the game, they were actually able to muster a few quality chances, the best one in the second half when Ale Silva was left alone with the keeper, only to blast the ball straight a him.
But, again like the past few games, Montreal conceded a penalty. The 6th conceded in 8 games. Unfortunately, Bush’s touch wasn’t enough to keep it out, and the game was tied at 1. And again, like the past few games, the Impact players gave the match away in the second half. Foul after foul, they were punished twice by Kevin Kratz, who scored two sublime free kicks, both in the top left corner and nearly impossible to save.
Let it be recognized, however, that the Impact only allowed the most lethal front three in the MLS to score a single goal in open play. And it came only in the 84th minute, when the Impact were down 2-1, destabilized, and pushing for an unlikely equalizer. Although the score line did end up being as one-sided as everyone expected it to be, it does not do justice to the work done by the Impact. If they can keep playing like they did in the first 68 minutes against Atlanta, and do so until the final whistle, they have the chance to turn their fortunes around.
Now, here are this week’s Virtuosos!
Virtuoso #1: Saphir Taïder
The Algerian midfielder played one of his best matches to date, and even scored his first goal in an official match for the Impact. He showed great awareness, leaving his position in midfield to get into the open space in the opponent’s box. He was also very good on the counters, creating chances with his good passing. Had Silva not squandered his golden opportunity, Taïder could have finished the match with an assist as well.
Virtuoso #2: Ignacio Piatti
Piatti was once again the creative force for the Impact. What is great about him is that his movement always draws out two, three and even sometimes four players with him. This opens up tons of space for other Impact players to use. However, the game against Atlanta also showed how Piatti can help in defense. He dropped back and took his assigned position in the second bank of players very quickly, and always pressed with the team.
Virtuoso #3: Jukka Raitala
Raitala has been taking a lot of heat from Impact fans for his defensive performances in center-back, but some often seem to forget that he’s a left full-back. However, this game was easily his best since he’s joined the Impact, and he was very dominant in the back. His eight clearances, two interceptions and two blocked shots earn him his first entry on this list.
All stats courtesy of SofaScore.
Who do you think were the top performers? What did you think of the game? Let me know in the comments below, and as always, Allez Montréal!