Something is going on with this team as they should be better than their record (5-8-3). They have the talent so there is either something going on in that dressing room we don't know about (lack of leadership or cohesion) or they have just totally lost confidence in themselves, which I see as a problem at the top (i.e. the coach). This is basically the same team that went to the quarter finals in the CONCACAF Champions League last year and to the semi finals of the USL-1 playoffs.
This season has been a complete 180 degree turnaround. Is it due to the infamous collapse against Santos Laguna in the second game of the CONCACAF quarter finals? Was the team confidence completely crushed? If so, that does not say much for the leadership on the team and for the direction provided by the coaching staff. One coach (John Limniatis) has been fired already, but the change has not seemed to solve the problem.
Even worse it now seems as if the frustration has reached the boiling point amongst the players. Last weekend veteran Impact midfielder Sandro Grande put his hands around the throat of teammate (and from all accounts good friend) Mauro Biello during the game. He was immediately suspended by the team and it was announced on Monday morning that he was being released from the team. In a separate incident Coach Marc Dos Santos was given a red card and suspended for one game for making contact with a Rochester player last game. Even though it looked fairly innocent and Dos Santos said the referee overreacted, it was still contact. It should not happen. The downward spiral continues.
Whatever the problem is it has to be fixed quickly as we are beginning the second half of the USL season and the Impact are not in the playoff picture. The players have to shut out the distractions and start performing up to their capabilities. They have to start winning now!
The team's first game of the second half of the season was not going to be an easy one with them facing the second place Puerto Rico Islanders. The Islanders have already defeated the Impact once this year (3-2) and are only one point out of first place. More impressive is that they come into the game with 13 more points than the Impact. The good news is that the Islanders have only won 2 of 9 games on the road.
A long goalless drought has been the biggest problem for the home side. This is surprising as they have plenty of firepower up front with Roberto Brown, Rocco Placentino and Eduardo Sebrango. Despite this talent up front they are goalless in their last 5 league games and have only scored 14 goals over the course of their 16 games. That simply isn't good enough.
A few changes were made to the Impact roster before this game with defender Kevin Sakuda and striker Pa Amadou Gai being released by the team. Young midfielder Ciaran O'Brien (on loan from the Colorado Rapids of the MSL) was added to the roster. The game against the Islanders would also see the return of defender Nevio Pizzolitto who is back from a one game suspension due to a red card. Also in a surprising and then again not so surprising move, backup goaltender Srdjan Djekanovic was going to be starting his second consecutive game. He made two brilliant saves in the last game against Rochester to keep the score 0-0 and deserved to be starting again. Finally, due to the suspension of head coach Dos Santos, assistant coach Andrea Di Pietrantonio would coach the team.
In order to present a more offensive formation the coaching staff of the Impact decided to go with a 4-3-3 formation hoping this added support up front would bear fruit. It seemed to work in the first half of play as the Impact were able to maintain the bulk of possession and put plenty of pressure on the Islanders' defence. In the 1st minute of play forward Rocco Placentino hade a great chance from inside the 18 yard box after defender Adam Braz found him unmarked on the left side. Unfortunately his shot sailed over the crossbar (another sign of a 'tight' team), but the Impact were off to the start they wanted.
The offensive chances continued for the Impact in the 9th minute when striker Roberto Brown got off a great shot from just outside the box that forced Islanders goaltender Bob Gaudette to make a good save. The chances kept coming with Pizzolitto heading one over the crossbar off a corner and Placentino, who was managing to get away from defender Christian Arrieta for a good part of the first half, drives a volley over the crossbar. Unfortunately all the chances and pressure did not lead to any shots. The Impact were not forcing the Islanders keeper into making saves.
Defensively the Impact were dominating as well. During the first 30 minutes of the first half the Islanders did not even get a sniff at the Montreal net. Then all of a sudden in the 44th minute things changed rapidly due to another instance of indiscipline from the Impact. Defender Adam Braz had his man covered in the box when he very obviously pulled him down with his arm. Referee Mauricio Navaro had no option but to award a penalty shot. To compound things Braz also received a yellow card, which was his 5th of the season and that means he is automatically suspended for the next game. It was a selfish play by Braz and even his coach Di Pietrantonio called it a "stupid" foul. Islanders Arrieta made no mistake with the penalty shot with keeper Djekanovic guessing his right, Arrieta (now the top scorer in the USL with 7 goals) put it to the left and the Islanders were up 1-0 with a goal right at the end of the first half.
This must have been a bitter pill for the Impact players to swallow as they had dominated play up to that point, but once again their inability to score was haunting them. They could not have been very confident coming out of the dressing room down 1-0 as they have lost all 5 games in which they trailed 1-0 after the first half. Sigh….
In the second half Montreal was no longer dictating the tempo. They slowed down and allowed Puerto Rico to control the game. The Islanders were very happy to pull 10 men behind the ball and just defend for the second half. It became a boring game with plenty of stops and starts with the Islanders putting the ball out of play or committing fouls to slow the pace down. Very choppy play with no flow.
Not helping matters for the Impact were that they were now playing as individuals not as a team with players trying to do everything themselves and consequently losing the ball. The only really dangerous chance for the Impact in the second half was in the 85th minute off a free kick from 25 yards out taken by sub Ciaran O'Brien (who came on for Mauro Biello in the second half) which Pizzolitto (who else?) got his head on, but keeper Gaudette made a nice diving save to his left and did not give up a rebound.
The Impact, despite a decent effort, lose once again. Next up is the last placed team from Cleveland and let's hope they provide the remedy that the Impact so desperately need. But they will have to do it without Adam Braz and the team's leading goal scorer Roberto Brown, who received a red card at the end of the game for arguing with the referee. Sigh….
-Officials: Referee: Mauricio Navaro
Linesmen: Phillippe Brière and John Gray
-Goals: Puerto Rico – 45' – Christian Arrieta (penalty kick)
-Cards: Montreal – 45' – Adam Braz – yellow
Montreal – 48' – Rocco Placention – yellow
Puerto Rico – 57' – Christian Arrieta – yellow
Puerto Rico – 68' – Dan Gargan – yellow
Montreal – 90' – Nevio Pizzolitto – yellow
Puerto Rico – 90' – Scott Jones – yellow
Montreal – 90' – Roberto Brown – red
-Shots: Montreal: 6
Puerto Rico: 7
-Saves: Montreal: 2
Puerto Rico: 4
-Corners: Montreal: 5
Puerto Rico: 2
-Carlsberg Player of the Match: David Testo
-Attendance: 11, 827