MONTREAL — My first thought after the latest Impact loss — a 2-1 defeat in Chicago last Saturday — was that if they don’t start picking up points away from home, they may very well miss the playoffs after such a bright start to their Major League Soccer season.
It must be said, it is a typical pattern for MLS teams to not do well on the road. But if the Impact wishes to make the playoffs, they cannot afford to follow that trend. This was another winnable game for the Impact, but once again they only have themselves to blame for conceding two avoidable goals. There was evidence again of Montreal’s defensive indiscipline, something that has plagued the team in recent weeks.
Here are my pros and cons from that game as the Impact prepares to face D.C. United Saturday at Saputo Stadium (7 p.m., TSN, RDS).
Pro: After two games, it’s clear for all to see that Hernan Bernardello will help the Impact. I already rate him as the team’s best ball winner, which is — of course — extremely important in midfield. Bernardello’s ability to cut off passing lanes has been excellent. His anticipation and reading the opposition is first rate. On the offensive side of things, he keeps it simple by limiting his range of passing. One thing is for certain, Bernardello will only get better once he reaches full fitness.
Con: In just a couple games, we’ve already witnessed Bernardello’s effectiveness on set pieces. He whips a great ball in. But we have now also witnessed arguably the worst direct free kick taken in MLS in a very long time. The embarrassing moment came just before the halftime break in the 49th minute. Bernardello went for goal from 30 yards out, but got too far under the ball, which flew off his foot into the upper deck of the stadium. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t — but rarely are they that poorly taken. Justin Mapp won’t soon forget the sitter he missed in the 38th minute, that’s for sure. After getting the short lay off from Daniele Paponi 10 yards out from goal, the biggest mystery to anyone watching would have been why did Mapp let the ball run past his favoured left foot and onto his much weaker right foot? He made the wrong choice. He needed to tuck that away with his sweet left foot, under Chicago ’keeper Sean Johnson before he had time to shuffle across and make a save.
Pro: The Impact dominated possession by a landslide, a testament of the work by Patrice Bernier, Davy Arnaud, Bernardello and Sanna Nyassi. Montreal won a lot of balls in midfield and was able to keep possession at will. Nyassi, in particular, was most effective in turning good defensive work into positive attacking sequences. Mapp was his usual lively self, getting in good areas in the attacking third once again. But what can you say about Felipe’s introduction to the game? Was it a timely substitution by manager Marco Schallibaum or was it simply the case of a player wanting to prove his worth in the team? Either way, Felipe’s goal in the 56th minute came only minutes after his introduction into the contest but, most importantly, gave hope to an improved Montreal side in the second half. Quietly, the Brazilian now has four goals in a season where his consistent influence has been lacking. I assure you, every Impact player, coach and supporter hopes this is the trigger moment that will get Felipe back to his very best.
Con: Now, let’s look at the two goals against. On Chicago’s first goal — in the sixth minute — Paponi did very well to clear the initial free kick served into the area and even better when he got out quickly to close the loose ball. But then he had a brain cramp. Paponi challenged Joel Lindpere’s shot by jumping, turning and extending his arms toward the ball. Wouldn’t you know it, the ball came off his outstretched arm, deflecting past a helpless Troy Perkins and into the back of the net. Had it not gone in, Paponi likely would have been whistled for a handball anyway, resulting in a penalty. The second goal started with Alessandro Nesta and ended with Nesta. It began with a long aerial Nesta pass to midfield, which was easily intercepted by the Fire and played immediately to Dilly Duka. The Fire attacker had slipped behind Bernardello and Bernier to get on the ball. Bernardello did extremely well chasing back to actually toe the ball off Duka and toward Nesta just inside the Impact’s penalty area. But the Italian legend made a poor decision attempting to take his first touch to the inside, instead of to the outside. His touch fell to Duka, who carried on past Nesta before tucking it low past Perkins. It’s a game of quick decisions, and Paponi and Nesta made poor decisions that cost the team dearly.
Pro: Honourable mention to Paponi, whose high work rate is infectious. He’s the most effective striker on the team in holding up play, allowing his midfield a chance to link up in numbers. The fact that Marco Di Vaio played only 40 minutes is a plus for MDV. There are still a lot of games down the stretch and his “fresh” legs will be needed. Can’t ignore the fight of Matteo Ferrari on the night, plus he almost earned the team a point in the dying minutes — but his header on goal was cleared off the line.
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