Friendlies in the middle of the season are a tricky thing. There are good things and bad things about them. We know clubs do them to earn a little bit of money and to expose their fans to teams they don’t normally get to see. All well and good, but Montreal is in the middle of a hectic point in the schedule so it is problematic as it is draining and what if someone gets injured? The plus side is they get to play and measure themselves up against a world class side like AS Roma and the younger players on the club get some playing time. It was this last aspect that most interested me. That plus the fact that I got to see Didier Drogba and Francesco Totti on the same field.
Over the past couple of seasons the quality of play and player in the MLS has improved. Seeing them on the field against an established club from one of the biggest leagues in the world is an interesting test for the Impact. AS Roma is a big club. They have won the Serie A three times and the Copa Italia nine times. You cannot make mistakes against a club of this quality or they will punish you. Before the game was 22 minutes old AS Roma had taken advantage of two mistakes and it was 2-0. A rout? Stay tuned.
Amazingly the first clear scoring chance came for the home side. Drogba, the man who won’t be playing on Saturday because he got a red card in Montreal’s last game, showed his skill by cheekily chipping Roma’s new keeper Alisson (the fact that he uses one name shows you he is Brazilian), but unfortunately the ball struck the crossbar. It was one of three bars the Impact was to hit in this game. Smart start for the home team.
The first goal came in the 6th minute with first year Impact defender Kyle Fisher coughing up the ball and before you could say grazie the giant Edit Dzeko had stuck the ball behind Impact starting keeper Eric Kronberg. Fifteen minutes later it was another giveaway by Fisher (poor guy) put the Impact in an outnumbered position and Mohamed Salah slipped the ball onto an onrushing Nainggolan. He got past central defender Victor Cabrera and placed it in the corner of the net.
From that point on Roma controlled the ball for long stretches showing their superior skill. Montreal sat back in a compact defensive position. Not surprising as they were not going with their full squad and even used players who had not seen a moment of play in the MLS. That being said the bleu-blanc-noir was strongest in the 2nd half of the game whilst no regular starter was on the field.
Montreal did create some scoring chances in the game. Alisson was forced to make some big saves when the ball wasn’t finding the woodwork. The newly signed David Choinière was set up brilliantly only to have his low shot strike the right post. The ball did find itself fortuitously on the feet of Drogba, but his shot was smartly saved by the quick reacting Alisson.
This was not the end of Montreal’s chances in the 1st half as substitute Michael Salazar (came on for Ignacio Piatti) had a couple of glorious chances. He scored on none of them. Including a breakaway. That is another difference between the two sides. Roma’s finishes were clinical. In front of net they converted their high percentage scoring chances. Montreal did not.
The chances for Montreal did not dry up in the 2nd half when coach Mauro Biello sent in all his young players. Striker Anthony Jackson-Hamel and midfielder Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla really stood out. Ballou is a teenager (18) whose future looks bright. He plays for FC Montreal and there was talk at the beginning of the season of European clubs like Chelsea being interested in this guy. After seeing him play I know why. With the ball on his feet he is magic. Making things happen out of nothing. Nice skill. His play really opened some eyes and is certainly on edge of playing on the big squad.
The crowd (especially the many Italians in attendance) exploded when the legend Totti came on as a substitute in the 2nd half. Even though at the age of 39 he has slowed down there is still life in those legs and his vision is still extraordinary. There were several displays of his passing ability during his time on the field and his composure with the ball. He did manage one shot on net that Montreal’s third keeper, Maxime Crépeau was able to parry away. Crépeau did well keeping a clean sheet in the 2nd half.
It was probably the only time that the Impact would lose a game 2-0 and still get a standing ovation at the end of the game from their fans. Though, truth be told, lots of the applause was for the Italian side. Even Roma coach Luciano Spalletti was impressed with the warm reception his team got from the Montreal fans.
The Impact’s next game will be at Saputo Stadium on Saturday against the Houston Dynamo. As mentioned, Drogba will not be playing due to a red card. Who will get the opportunity in his stead? Dominic Oduro? Anthony Jackson-Hamel? The most logical choice for me is the Italian Matteo Mancosu.
-Goals: 1st Half:
-6th minute: AS Roma – Edin Dzeko
21st minute: AS Roma – Radja Nainggolan
-Attendance: 20, 801
-Final Score: Montreal – 0
AS Roma – 2