This was an important game for the Montreal Impact. For the 3rd year MLS franchise they want to build upon making the playoffs last season and winning the Amway Canadian Championships. Well, they have once again won the Canadian Championships and are preparing for the Group Stage of the CONCACAF Championship. They want to go further than being eliminated at this stage like they were last season. Now, the second half of the equation, making the MLS playoffs and going further than the 1st round, seems to be in jeopardy.
After another off season coaching change (third in three seasons!!) and some player changes (veteran central fullback Alessandro Nesta retiring and captain Davey Arnaud being traded) it led to a weak beginning of the season for the Impact. For whatever reason (the most likely being that they were not up to the calibre of the other teams) they came out of the gate pretty much in reverse. Now 15 games in with a 3-7-5 record and finding themselves in last place in the Eastern Conference the Impact were going to have start winning at a fairly regular clip if they have any hope of even making the playoffs this season.
Getting some points on the road had to be at or near the top of coach Frank Klopas’s list. The Montreal Impact has been putrid on the road this season without a win. You know you are bad when you are the only team in the MLS without a win on the road so far. On the bright side they are only 6 points (or 2 wins with everyone else above them losing) out of a playoff spot. The race for the playoffs had to begin in Carson City, California.
Chivas USA is also a team undergoing its own problems. First, it doesn’t have an owner so the league had to take it over. Attendance has been a problem and the sparse crowd on this evening demonstrated that it is not going to change any time soon. And finally, they are a team like Montreal at the bottom of the Conference. Before this game Chivas USA was in last place or 9th in the Western Conference. A good team to start gaining confidence on the road against, you say? We’ll see…
The last time that Montreal and Chivas met was in 2012 and Chivas won 2-1. Chivas is a tam that the Impact doesn’t know that well as they don’t play often. What they do know is that number one keeper Dan Kennedy, who was honoured in a pregame ceremony, is one of the best in the MLS and striker Erick Torres is very dangerous with 11 goals so far this season. Both would stand in the way of a Montreal victory you would have to think and if you did you were half right.
Right off the hop things looked good for Montreal. In the 2nd minute they got their first scoring chance, but it was a sign of things to come. Impact captain Patrice Bernier spied Marco Di Vaio alone inside the Chivas penalty area and quickly fed him the ball. Like we have seen him do on a number of occasions the Italian striker stroked the ball into the top corner of the net. No reason to celebrate though as something occurred that we who have followed the Impact over the last three seasons have also seen from Di Vaio a lot. The goal was disallowed because Di Vaio was judged to be offside. This would happen 5 more times over the course of the game and it is a problem in that it kills any offensive momentum you have as a team.
Di Vaio, Justin Mapp and Karl W. Ouimette were all back in the Montreal starting 11. Mapp was the only one who had an impact on the game…actually, I take that back, but more about that later. He was his usual self creating chances via his pace and ball handling skills. It was unfortunate that no one could capitalize on those chances.
Despite the fact that for the most part the defense was shutting down Torres and the rest of the Chivas team and they enjoyed the greater possession of the ball, the Impact was not creating any high quality scoring chances. For the most part of the 1st half Felipe, who is supposed to be playing in a supporting role just behind the two strikers, was playing deep beside Bernier. Also it was the first time in a long time that the two strikers, Di Vaio and MLS Player of the Week Jack McInerney, had started a game alongside one another. It showed in their play as there was precious little cohesion between the two.
More about Felipe. His lack of offense is becoming a problem. He is not really providing quality service to the strikers and when he gets chances to score he misses the net. For example, in the 20th minute Mapp came down the right side and crossed the ball long to the other side of the penalty area to Andres Romero. He smartly played the ball back to the onrushing Felipe. Despite the fact that he had an open shot from the top of the penalty area he launched his first time shot harmlessly over the crossbar. Another wasted opportunity.
The Chivas defenders did well in the bend but don’t break mode. They made Di Vaio a priority. Chivas defenders made it their number one job to not allow Di Vaio to turn with the ball. A couple were on him all game and used their size to muscle him off ball or limit his choices.
It is obvious that Klopas has asked of his fullbacks to distribute or transition the ball quickly. He wants to move from defense to offense immediately upon repossession of the ball. That is not the problem as the defense did this quite well. The problem ended up being in the last third of the field. Montreal could not create high quality chances as they did last weekend against Houston.
The Montreal defense has been performing lights out in recent games. At the end of the 1st half if had been 270 minutes since they had last surrender a goal. Impressive defending and Perkins was the beneficiary with back-to-back clean sheets. You can only expect that to go on for so long and if your offense does not score it is a dangerous game you’re playing.
In the 51st minute Montreal probably had their best scoring chance of the game. It started once again with Mapp bringing the ball along the right side. He cut inside on his defender and played the ball across to Romero. He had a great first touch which allowed him to get some space between himself and the man defending him. Romero then astutely played a low ball to the 2nd post. A sliding McInerney got a shot off from in tight, but it was blocked by a Chivas defender.
Over the last 20 minutes of the game Chivas began to take control and created some scoring chances. Maybe at this point Klopas figured he should play for the tie and so he took off Bernier, McInerney and Ouimette to put in Calum Mallace, Gorka Larrea and Maxim Tissot. Still the pressure was on Montreal. Finally in the 4th minute of added time striker Torres got the breathing room needed to make the difference. A shot from distance was blocked by Ferrari, but then ball deflected to Torres, who did what good strikers do created something from nothing. In the blink of an eye he launched himself into the air and using a bicycle kick put the ball into the Montreal net. Perkins had no chance. It had been 315 minutes, a new team record, without allowing a goal and now it was over in the most heartbreaking of ways. 1-0 Chivas and seconds later the game was over.
Another comment about the fullbacks. There were pluses and minuses on this evening. A plus over the past few games has been the play of veteran central defender, Matteo Ferrari. In the early part of the season he was showing his age and maybe showing his weaknesses now that he did not have Nesta’s experience beside him. However, since his return from injury 3 games ago he has played well. He has added some much needed stability on defense and seems to have found a partner in the middle in Heath Pearce. The upping of his play might also have something to do with the realization that there is some competition for his spot with young guys Ouimette and Wandrille Lefevre chomping at the bit as well as veteran Futty Danso being recently signed and Adrian Lopez soon to be back from injury(?). The minus, and that is a little severe considering the team only allowed 1 goal, was the inconsistent play of Ouimette. Several times in the game he was out of position, gave the ball away or allowed a Chivas player to get beyond him. It definitely was not one of his better games and since Eric Miller played so well in the game against Houston I would not be surprised to see him back in the starting 11.
Help is coming in the form of Argentinean offensive midfielder Ignacio Piatti, who the Impact signed as their second Designated Player this past week. The back news is that he might come too late for the playoff push. Probably will only join the club at the beginning of August which will be fine for the CONCACAF Championship, but too late for the MLS playoff race probably. On a side note the signing of Piatti coincided with the release of Designated Player and defensive midfielder, Hernand Bernadello.
Montreal’s next game is at Saputo Stadium against MLS defending champs, Sporting KC on July 12th.
-On-Field Officials: Referee – Juan Guzman
Linesmen – Ian Anderson and Mike Kampmeinert
-Goals: 2nd Half:
90th + 4 minute: Chivas – Erick Torres
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 2
Chivas – 3
-Corners: Montreal – 5
Chivas – 4
-Man of the Match: Justin Mapp
-Final Score: Montreal – 0
Chivas – 1