MONTREAL — A 2-0 win against the Philadelphia Union and the playoff race continues for the Montreal Impact, though only just, because with nine games remaining in the season, there’s very little room left for error.
But now more than ever, there’s a belief that this team can go out and get results.
That’s what they did against the Union on Saturday night: they got the result. It wasn’t pretty, it was in no way a dominant performance, but they just got the job done. They took their chances and that was that.
With the strength that the Impact now possesses in defence, they no longer absolutely need to put in a perfect or dominant performance to win games. They can be ordinary, like they were against Philadelphia, and still get the result, which is what winning teams are able to do.
It is of course too early to say whether or not the Impact are in fact a winning team — they would need to start winning on the road — but they are now definitely equipped to become one.
The depth in central defence is remarkable, probably second to none in the league. Coach Jesse Marsch now has five — six if you include Karl Ouimette — central defenders fighting for two positions, which is why he changed things around Saturday and played four centre-backs in defence.
Marsch said in the post-game press conference that he was pleased with the way his new defensive setup worked out.
“Having those four guys at the back made it hard to break us down. It’s not always as fluid with the ball in terms of our spacing out of the back, but (considering) where we are in our season and the amount of goals we’ve given up, I’m less concerned with that and more concerned with locking things down. And I believe those four guys can do that,” Marsch explained.
But playing without proper fullbacks hindered the attacking play, and if it weren’t for the Impact’s goal off the corner in the first half (their second goal on 116 corner attempts this season), which would open up the game in the second half, Montreal would have had a very hard time finding the back of the net.
With the two central midfielders that sit right in front of the defence, the 4-2-3-1 formation is made almost purposely for forward movement from the fullbacks. Without that movement, the team becomes very predictable in possession, as was the case against the Union, especially in the first 45 minutes.
But with defender Nelson Rivas getting a red card in the second half for a silly head-butt, the Colombian will be suspended for several games and Marsch will likely revert back to a more orthodox four-man back line with two central defenders and two fullbacks.
And with so many defenders at Marsch’s disposal, the challenge will be who to give minutes to and how to keep everyone content. If anything, Rivas’ suspension is probably more of a relief than a setback for Marsch.
But as Marsch said in training this week, having so many quality defenders is a good problem to have and this newfound solidity has brought a contagious assurance to the rest of the team.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer who covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com. Follow Nick on Twitter.