It’s been lacking every time Piatti’s not there. That little bit of creativity, or unpredictability.
Well, the great Argentine was not on the field today, but some of the missing ingredient was, and it came from new signing Omar Browne.
Browne became the first Impact player to score a debut goal for the club in MLS since Kyle Bekker in 2015, and what a wonderful piece of opportunism it was.
Impact had produced a solid performance but didn’t look like breaking the deadlock. The Fire, well organized and comfortably winding their way down to only their second road-point, may have been thinking job (almost) done. And they’d have been right. It was clear that only something special would separate the teams. The boldness and cheekiness was Browne’s and it won the day for an Impact side who are now a very creditable 5-3-2.
When the ball arrived at the Panamanian’s feet, almost on the bye-line, he was being marshalled by Corrales, who had Browne exactly where he wanted him, deprived of space or a clear channel in which to cross. Browne moved the ball backwards, creating a gap between opponent and bye-line, into which he disappeared. Schweinsteiger looking under pressure for the first time all afternoon, desperately dived in to block, the ball broke favourably and Browne hooked into the net. 1-0 Impact!
Garde, on the bench, normally so calm and collected, threw his arms high into the air, the actions, and relief, of a man confident his team can defend a lead over the last 8 minutes at home.
It was memorable piece of impudence and just reward for ingenuity and persistence, from a player who looks like he can offer something different. Understandably, he was happy with his contribution
”With a full stadium like that, I was a little bit nervous but the crowd helped me get motivated,” said Browne in Spanish, through a translator. “Once I was on the field, I felt comfortable. It’s been obviously hard to adapt to everything here but I’m ready to keep working and get better.”
There were signs of trickery earlier from the Panamanian, who patrolled the right side from the 40th min after Bayiha’s injury. In minute 59, he conjured his way past two defenders before providing Taider, close-in, facing the whites of Ousted’s eyes, but the Algerian was whistled offside.
That apart, the entertainment was minimal. Both teams were well set-up and organized. It always looked likely that one goal would decide the day, especially so as the second-half developed.
The early tempo however had been lively and before Chicago gained more of a foothold in the second-half, Impact were crisply knocking the football around on a fast but flat surface that still showed the yellowing effects of winter. The movement in the Montreal team was varied and vibrant, suggesting there was better to come.
It was the visitors however who had the first good chance when a combination of Bush, upright and Piette cleared the danger, although Nikolic really should have scored. Then on 14 mins after good work by the lively Okwonkwo, Taider produced a dangerous cross that Schweinsteiger put behind for a corner.
The German World Cup winner was imperious throughout. This and the winning goal, being the only occasions when he suffered a hair out of place. He looked like he could still be playing his central defensive role with eyes closed, while drawing old-age pension. Here’s one centre-back untroubled by Urruti’s industry and pressing.
On the half-hour, Nikolic did well to get past the excellent Lovitz, and produced a dangerous cross which Diallo dealt with firmly. The Frenchman’s central defensive partnership with Raitala is becoming one of the more consistent features of this Impact side.
Now level on points with DC United at the summit of the Eastern Conference, and despite heavy reverses at SKC and Philly, you can see a vein of confidence running through this Impact side. Seventeen points after a ten-game program, which included 8 road fixtures, is pretty good form. Even better when you consider their most potent attacking player is yet to return after missing 7 in a row. It’s not hard to work out why there’s optimism around Stade Saputo these days.
Impact still clearly lacks a goalscorer, Piatti might be the answer to that, and is likely to get caught out again on the road. Conceding the first goal away from home and finding a way back into a game remains an equation unsolved, and one that can quickly see a performance and game-plan unravel, especially if they find themselves behind in strange surroundings, early on.
But more often than not, the coaching staff has managed to get things right in 2019 or more accurately, from halfway through 2018, when they began getting to grips with the vagaries of MLS football. Their perseverance, attention to detail, and ability to eke out results against what would appear to be more talented outfits, bodes well for the rest of this season.
“We feel very confident,” said midfielder Samuel Piette. “It’s our second win at home, and both came by clean sheet. It proves that we’re really solid defensively, and when we do get chances, we convert them. There’s a lot of positive to take, but we can’t be satisfied, and we need to continue.”
Yet there remains potential for a heavy reverse or two away from home before the season is out. But that’s MLS. It might not matter though.
But Remi Garde must be delighted. 100% record at home, where they’ve beaten two Eastern Conference opponents and not been scored on. Five shut-outs in their last 6 matches, an unbeaten home run stretching back 8 games, and already 11 points on the road from 8 trips away. All achieved, despite not having Ignacio Piatti for the last 7 games.
Defensively and organizationally, on their day, they are a match for most teams in a league so lop-sided towards attack, some matches resemble Sunday Pub football in the park. Garde’s pragmatism and technical understanding gives Montreal an advantage over sides lacking similar balance. The Impact may be less pretty or exciting but they have in the main, been effective.
“There is rigour in the team,” said Impact head coach Rémi Garde. “The players understood a certain amount of tactical positions that are important. If you concede too many goals in modern football, it’s complicated. It was not necessarily our intention today, but it was difficult to play much quicker than we did.”
It’s still a work in progress. As yet, not the final article. Inconsistency will raise it’s annoying head as the season progresses, but at least this team displays the resilience and ability to bounce back, positively and quickly, from setbacks. This they have already proven.
Next up for Montreal is New York City FC at home next Saturday, while on the same day, Chicago travel to Western Conference pace-setters, LAFC.
MTL – GK-Evan Bush; D-Bacary Sagna, Zakaria Diallo, Jukka Raitala, Daniel Lovitz; M-Samuel Piette, Micheal Azira, Saphir Taïder; F-Clément Bayiha (Omar Browne 40’), Maximiliano Urruti (Victor Cabrera 89’), Orji Okwonkwo (Harry Novillo 65’)
Subs not used – Clément Diop, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Rudy Camacho, Anthony Jackson-Hamel
CHI – GK-David Ousted; D-Bastian Schweinsteiger, Diego Campos (Cristian Martínez 88’), Johan Kappelhof, Jorge Corrales; M- Aleksandar Katai, C.J. Sapong, Dax, McCarty (Brandt Bronico 88’), Djordje Mihailovic, Nicolás Gaitán; F- Nemanja Nikolic (Przemyslaw Frankowski 75’)
Subs not used – Richard Sánchez, Grant Lillard, Jeremiah Gutjahr, Mohammed Adams
MTL – Browne 83’
MTL – Sagna 78’
CHI – Kappelhof 90+5’
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez
Assistant Referees: Andrew Bigelow, Matthew Nelson
Fourth Official: Mark Allatin
VAR: Caleb Mendez