There was a moment in Saturday’s 2-1 road loss to the Columbus Crew when the Montreal Impact behaved as if it was a good team.
In the 35th minute, the Impact pressed high up the field, forced the Crew into a turnover, transitioned quickly into attack, and scored. That’s what a good team does. A good team is proactive; it takes matters into its own hands and plays to win, even on the road.
There’s no question the Impact wanted to win. They sit in last place in the Eastern Conference. They desperately need points to stay in the playoff race. They were also the only team still without a win on the road. Columbus seemed just the place to end that negative streak, because the Crew are not a formidable opponent—they were winless in their eight games prior to Saturday’s contest and dealing with injuries to several key players.
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But the Impact aren’t a good team either, because they can’t do good things for a very long period of time. What’s good only comes in spurts—like that moment in the 35th minute. Or those few moments when Jack McInerney should have doubled the Impact’s lead in the second half. Montreal is unable to sustain pressure, to impose itself for very long. They desist, because they’re physically unable to continue at a very high rhythm. Eventually they back down, and surrender, and lose. In the end, Columbus came from behind to win.
The main problem with the Impact is that they don’t have a midfield. They don’t have a midfield that’s physically capable of effectively pressing teams as a unit for sustained periods of time, and they don’t have a midfield that can keep a tactical structure intact for 90 minutes.
The Impact’s midfielders easily slow down and tire: tire to the point of becoming sloppy and untidy; unable to get to the spots on the field where they’re supposed to be; unable to win battles. Both of the Crew’s goals came from long distance strikes from the right foot of Bernardo Anor and no one was there to face the midfielder and impede him from shooting, or was at least close enough to have a chance of blocking the shot.
Montreal coach Frank Klopas lamented these issues following the game.
"I think we lost the game in the midfield today,” Klopas said. “We weren't quick enough on the ball. We didn't step up on Anor and he scored two great goals."
Losing Hernan Bernardello to Cruz Azul in Mexico and trading Collen Warner away to Toronto FC hasn’t helped the Impact. It’s left the team with a gaping hole in central midfield, which hasn’t been addressed.
In some respects and despite the many roster changes made during this season, the Impact look worse than they did at the start and the results are still the same.
The Impact have some serious rebuilding to do. They won’t go very far with the midfield they currently have. They’re last in the league, and it’s not down to bad luck—It’s just a poorly constructed team.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.