With Major League Soccer recently announcing new playoff tie-breaker rules, the Montreal Impact no longer just need to win games, they need to score goals. A lot of them.
The league announced last Wednesday that its Board of Governors approved the new format, which sets total goals scored as the first playoff tiebreaker when teams finish the season with equal points.
The somewhat baffling decision to alter the league’s rules in the middle of the campaign changes the plot, slightly, for a Montreal squad that has valiantly kept its playoff aspirations alive in recent weeks.
It’s been a tight race all year long in the Eastern Conference, where the top five teams earn a playoff berth. Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls have proven themselves the class of the East, and the Houston Dynamo has joined them near the top of the table after an impressive run of form. The Chicago Fire, D.C. United and Montreal are the sides with a realistic chance at the final playoff positions.
Montreal and D.C. are tied on 36 goals, though D.C. has three games in hand and has more three points. And in a strange scheduling quirk, the Impact have played six more matches than the Columbus Crew, the team chasing them in the standings. Still, with the Crew sitting on a paltry 20 goals scored through 20 matches, the tiebreaker news could not have been well-received in Columbus in light of the current standings.
The Impact have been blessed by the surprisingly prolific output of their midfield, including six goals from Patrice Bernier (four from penalties), and four each from Davy Arnaud and Felipe Martins. Montreal spreads the offence around, but that’s masked the fact that they haven’t had great production from their front-men.
Montreal coach Jesse Marsch has used lots of different combinations up front, with varying results. Let’s take a look at the four players who have spent the most time up front for the club in 2012.
Montreal was criticized in some quarters for selecting Wenger over Darren Mattocks with the first overall selection in the MLS SuperDraft back in January. While Mattocks is off to a blazing start in his MLS career with Vancouver, becoming a first-choice player for coach Martin Rennie, Wenger’s shown that he has all the tools to be a star as well.
Wenger has battled injuries and has often been used as a substitute in his first pro season, still managing four goals in 500 minutes of league action. Over 2700 minutes (30 starts), that projects to 21 goals. Wenger is the future of this team up front, and if he can stay healthy, he will strike fear into MLS defences for years to come — or until he goes overseas.
From the future (Wenger) to the past (Corradi). Brought aboard in the season’s early days, Corradi was a stopgap veteran who seemed to be adapting fairly well to life in MLS before a season-ending knee injury.
Note, though, that Corradi’s total of four league goals is somewhat inflated by his three successful penalty kicks. At 36, his future with the team looks doubtful, particularly with fellow Italians Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta occupying roster spots, and significant salary cap hits for Montreal.
Nyassi is versatile, but his best spot on the field is as a winger or attacking midfielder, not as an out-and-out striker. The 23-year-old Gambian is a truly confounding player. One moment he’ll make an easy play look difficult, and the next moment, he’ll pull off an awe-inspiring run and strike as he did in New England on Sunday.
For Impact fans, it seems like several moments of frustration broken up only by the odd moment of brilliance. Still, his five league goals are good for second place on the team, and though he’s never proven to be a clinical finisher in MLS, he remains a good depth option for Marsch.
Marco Di Vaio
With Italian match-fixing allegations still hanging over his head, and just one league goal from eight starts, Di Vaio’s time with Montreal has not started well. He clearly possesses a level of class in his game that few others in the league share, but has struggled to adapt to the Impact’s playing style and integrate with his new teammates on the pitch.
Di Vaio was acquitted from the scandal, dating back to his time in the Italian league, but new evidence has emerged and things continue to drag on.
If Di Vaio’s healthy –physically, but more so mentally — he has every chance to be a prolific goal scorer in MLS. If he can’t get to that point down the stretch run, it will be yet another roadblock for a team that has admirably handled everything thrown at them over the course of this season.
Jon Spratt is a freelance journalist and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow Jon on Twitter.