Lloyd Barker: Impact Needs to Pack More Punch at Home
Lost in the hype of the European Championship and the Copa America tournament was the return of Major League Soccer. The Montreal Impact visited the Columbus Crew last Saturday and played to a 0-0 stalemate that would have done very little to convince skeptics who persistently question the quality of MLS play. It was an uneventful affair, to put it mildly.
Here are my pros and cons from the match:
Pro: Every point earned on the road is a plus. And when you’re able to claim a point while keeping a clean sheet — and without your best defender in the lineup — it’s an added bonus. With Laurent Ciman away representing Belgium at Euro 2016, the Impact’s back line did just about enough to preserve a point without conceding.
Con: The Impact has lost only twice in its last eight games. However, with only one victory during that stretch the Impact has picked up eight of a possible 24 points. Only the last-place Chicago Fire has picked up fewer points (five) than the Impact during that stretch. In order for draws on the road to be acceptable, the team needs to be winning consistently at home. That hasn’t been the case for the Impact, which has a 1-1-2 record in the last four games at Saputo Stadium.
Pro: Although the dropped points will be an obvious concern for coach Mauro Biello and his troops, they can take solace in the fact that the team remained very much in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. The Impact is in fourth place with 20 points, has the third-best points-per-game record (1.43) and is only three points behind the first-place Philadelphia Union with a game in hand. As the Impact approaches the midway point of the season, the club is still in a playoff position and within reach of Philadelphia. Somehow.
Con: The partnership between Eric Alexander and Kyle Bekker, as the two holding midfielders in a 1-4-2-3-1 formation, was not a good one. Sure, the pair recovered a respectable total of thirteen balls in the middle third of the field, but their overall defensive presence was unconvincing. The duo, who played the full match in Columbus, finished with only one interception each, to go with zero tackles, clearances and defensive blocks. On the other side of the ball, it wasn’t much better. Alexander completed only two passes in the attacking third, one to the left wing and one to the right wing. Bekker was only marginally better, completing six passes in the attacking third. However, two of the six were negative passes and only one was aimed in the direction of the opposing goal. Indeed, the middle of the pitch is where both players are asked to do the most work, but their lack of contribution to the team’s attack highlights their unthreatening range of passing. One of the two, if not both, has to offer more to the attack.
Pro: Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush only needed to make one save, while the Impact forced Crew ‘keeper Steve Clark to make three stops from eight shots. The Crew fired off 12 shots, five of which the Impact blocked. Considering that the Crew completely dominated possession (61 per cent) and the overall flow of the contest — 182 more passes than the Impact — it seemed unlikely that Bush would only be forced to make one save.
Con: After a successful individual Copa America tournament with Costa Rica, Johan Venegas returned to being the inconsistent player that has left fans frustrated. Biello started Venegas as a second striker, playing underneath Didier Drogba, and at times he was nearly invisible. In 69 minutes, Venegas got on the ball only 10 times in the attacking half of the field. Of those 10 touches, he had six incomplete passes, two completed negative passes, one shot on goal and one shot wide. To be fair, the ineffectiveness of Venegas was partially because of the Impact’s inefficient attacking play. But what seems apparent is that the Costa Rican looks much more comfortable playing in a wide position. And even then, his positive involvement for extended periods in matches continues to be an issue.
Pro: It’s no coincidence that the Impact’s attack was unusually fruitless against the Crew. The team’s top scorer, Ignacio Piatti (eight goals, three assists), missed the game after wrist surgery, but will be available Saturday when the Impact hosts Sporting Kansas City at Saputo Stadium (7:30 p.m., TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio). SKC is coming off a 2-0 win against FC Dallas, but that stress-relieving victory represented on the team’s second win in its last 12 matches.
The perennial title contender started the season with four wins in the first five games, but has lost its way.
No better time than now for the Impact to take full advantage of SKC’s shortcomings before the club inevitably gets things straightened out.