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OVER THE HUMP - Better Commitment, Still Questionable Quality

Fragility exposed in Atlanta, despite effective game-plan...

MLS: Montreal Impact at Atlanta United FC
Taider unlucky to be penalized for handball in the lead-up to Atlanta’s second and go-ahead goal.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Almost anything after the second-half against LAFC would’ve been welcome.

Compounding the difficulty to achieve improvement was a visit to Atlanta United, the league’s most in-form team...

And despite managing to mirror the previous week’s leakage of four second-half goals, this was in fact, a better performance. The team was set up well, played effectively to a soundly prepared plan, yet sadly still came up far short.

There was a rash of excuses, or attempts to justify why the outcome was undeserved, or “harsh”, from more than a couple of Impact players afterwards. Mainly the efforts at rationalization, included reference to conceding from a penalty-kick, and two exquisitely executed free-kicks over the wall giving Evan Bush little chance.

I guess a struggling team needs to find ways to attach positive spin from each set-back along the way. It may help with morale if it’s a delicate group and it may also attempt to appease a disgruntled fan-base with, rightly or wrongly, increasing frustration.

Those Impact fans more versed in the vagaries of the beautiful game however will not be bought-off by that one.

We’ve now watched Impact toil through 8 rounds of MLS-play this season.

There was a tepid start in Vancouver, with encouragement offered in a bright second-half in Columbus. Back-to-Back victories (all seems so long ago now), over last year’s MLS Cup finalists followed, but as we now know, those successes served only to heighten optimism beyond the natural level.

The attempt at a first-ever, third MLS Shut-out in a row, was horribly derailed in Foxborough, the top of a four-game slide complete with concession of 16 goals, which hopefully culminates in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium (we don’t know yet!).

MLS: Montreal Impact at Atlanta United FC
Atlanta’s Kevin Kratz celebrates scoring the 16th goal against Montreal Impact in the last four matches.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Teams that do not, or cannot possess the football, defend more, commit more fouls, give away free-kicks in dangerous positions, concede penalties, pick up higher than average numbers of yellow and red cards and do not control the tempo of the game.

Any of this sound familiar?

Montreal Impact players, staff or fans, can each complain all day long about being unlucky, about being on the wrong end of 50/50 refereeing decisions, about conceding great, non-defendable, goals from direct free-kicks, about the concession of penalty-kicks ….

These are not only features of the game, but key elements, and the Impact, a counter-attacking team, not through choice, but through necessity, too often puts itself in situations where “bad-luck” or “misfortune” emerges.

So, is it really bad-luck? I think everyone really knows the answer to that question. Once, or maybe twice, you can curse ill-luck. When the occurrences reach epidemic proportions, it’s not luck, it’s not random any more. It’s systemic!

Under the circumstances, whatever their cause, Remi Garde produced a team and game-plan that for other reasons was unlikely to yield an unexpected result last weekend. It almost did however, despite the ultimately wide margin delivered.

Impact can point to Brad Guzan deflecting away Alejandro Silva’s goal-bound effort as the game’s defining moment. Atlanta coach, Tata Martino agreed. It was the product of a fine counter-attack, which would’ve put the Montrealers 2-0 in front, providing perhaps the foundation for, at least, a highly coveted point.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Atlanta United FC
Silva had a gilt-edged chance to put the Impact 2-up, but Brad Guzan was equal to the task.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

What happened next has become all so common; the home side’s pressure tells, Impact concedes a penalty (converted), and shortly after, a free-kick within scoring range (a somewhat questionable award to be fair). The free-kick is dispatched wonderfully well giving Bush no chance.

Now needing to un-trench themselves and go seek a foothold back into the contest, Impact are caught twice more, finishing up on the wrong end of a 1-4 score-line.

An MLS progress report summary at the end of Impact’s eighth week, may read -

“More player quality required. League has improved significantly, Montreal at best, stands still. More work must be done in future, especially through the close-season to enable more adequate preparation and addition of quality player personnel, leading to greater competiveness on the field.”


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

Evan Bush – 7/10 –Seeing plenty of the over-worked goalkeeper this season. Another good performance, Saturday, despite the concession of 4 goals. No, that’s not a misprint! Unlucky with Almiron’s penalty. Almost another save from the spot. Important early double stop from Martinez worthy of mention.

Chris Duvall – 6/10 –Had a steady game, where the high point was getting to the bye-line to provide a sumptious cross for Taider’s goal. The low point was giving away the penalty for Atlanta’s equalizer.

Rudy Camacho – 6/10 –Best we’ve seen from Rudy so far. Seemed very comfortable in the system deployed (flat back four). Caught out early on letting Martinez in to be rescued by Bush, but steady afterwards.

Jukka Raitala – 6.5/10 –Probably the Finn’s best performance in an Impact shirt. Read situations well, and god positional sense.

Daniel Lovitz – 5/10 –Steady performance in defense. Still lacks finesse in moving forward and selecting passes.

Samuel Piette – 4.5/10 –Struggled against Atlanta’s midfield, and gave the ball up more often than usual. Unlucky with his yellow card, and not his best game. Can do better. Has done better.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Atlanta United FC
Sam Piette - had a difficult day against the Atlanta midfield.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Alejandro Silva – 6/10 –Saw some better football from Alejandro, but still with the impression he’s not quite settled in yet. Should have scored a second for Montreal when faced one on one with Guzan, at the culmination of a move in which he was heavily instrumental.

Saphir Taider – 6.5/10 –Fine run from deep to get on the end of Duvall’s cross, and score his first MLS goal. Plenty of energy, trying to create and defend. Frustrated (probably rightly so) by the handball award leading to the second Atlanta goal. Must not allow frustration to get the better of him, his role in the team is too important.

Ken Krolicki – 4.5/10 –Admirably committed with great attitude, but ineffectual. A big ask against one of the better MLS teams, for the young player who struggled to make any impression.

Jeisson Vargas – 4.5/10 – Never managed to really feature in the game. Anonymous for the most part. Possesses nice touches. Not suited to defensive midfiled responsibilities.

Ignacio Piatti – 6/10– Played a selfless role upfront. A lot of running, isolated from the rest of his team. Even managed to help out in defense on occasion, not really what we want to see Nacho doing. But the plan dictated the behavior.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Atlanta United FC
Nacho Piatti - often isolated or outnumbered upfront.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Subs

Michael PetrassoCame into the game already decided and with Atlanta heavily dominant. No rating.

Dominic Oduro – Not on the field long enough to be rated.

Anthony Jackson-Hamel– Not on the field long enough to be rated.