MONTREAL — That just about does it.
The Montreal Impact’s 0-0 draw with Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Saputo Stadium essentially extinguished the team’s chances of making the playoffs in its first MLS season.
In the build up to the game, Impact coach Jesse Marsch explained that Sporting’s success on the road largely came down to its ability to play high up the field and press teams, instead of sitting back as is usually the case when teams play away from home.
Despite the fact that the Impact prepared for Sporting’s pressing game during the week, the visitors had their way in the first half and really should have been leading at the break.
The Impact had a difficult time transitioning out of their end, as Marco Di Vaio, Justin Mapp, Felipe and Davy Arnaud weren’t really able to combine with each other, and were altogether unable to attack the spaces in behind the KC defence. Furthermore, Mapp and Arnaud could not hold on to the ball in the wide areas, while Di Vaio wasn’t able to hold up the ball for his teammates. Felipe was, for the most part, marked out of the game by KC’s holding midfielders.
When Marsch switched to a 4-4-2 and subbed in Andrew Wenger and Sanna Nyassi in the second half, the Impact’s attacking play was significantly bettered for it. Playing on the outside of midfield, Felipe and Nyassi were able to carry the ball forward, while Wenger was able to bring down the ball a lot more than Di Vaio could in the first half, and helped the team move up the field as a result.
Even with those changes, however, the Impact didn’t get to the KC goal as much as they would have liked to, though they did come close to scoring on a few occasions.
On the whole, the result was a fair one.
But it is safe to say that KC has a better squad than the Impact and they will be one of the favorites to win the MLS Cup this year. That being said, the game did provide a good opportunity to see the areas in which the Impact will have to strengthen for next season, especially because both sides put out the same formation in the first half, which makes the teams easier to compare.
It probably isn’t a coincidence to see arguably the two most athletic sides in the league – Sporting KC and the San Jose Earthquakes – at the top of their respective conferences. Physicality isn’t everything, but it is a big factor in today’s game, especially when a team gets swamped with matches in a short period of time.
Montreal should concentrate on signing younger players in the off-season.
But Sporting has quality as well and one thing they do have that the Impact lack is a player like Kei Kamara: a winger that can hug the touchline and put crosses in the box, drift into the middle and score goals and that is also strong at holding on to the ball and helping the team defensively. Having this kind of dynamic winger is especially important in the 4-2-3-1 formation where the forward can easily get isolated.
The Impact’s wingers just don’t cut it.
Mapp is far too inconsistent and never seems to have too much energy past the 60th minute. Arnaud isn’t a winger and doesn’t play the position all too well: his crosses and passes in the final third usually go astray, he’s not quick enough to get in behind the defence and he isn’t technical enough to take players on 1-v-1.
Neagle hasn’t featured too much this season, but has also been mostly inconsistent when called upon. Nyassi has played on the outside of midfield several times, but his success has come primarily off the bench.
If Montreal wants to make the playoffs and begin to challenge for the league’s highest honors next season, the wide midfield position will definitely be one that Marsch and sporting director Nick De Santis will need to significantly strengthen in January.
It would also be beneficial for the team that some of the younger players like Karl Ouimette and Calum Mallace, who haven’t played more than a game this season, to get some minutes in the team’s last three outings in October.
With the Impact out of the playoffs, now’s the time to start thinking ahead to next year.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer who covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com. Follow Nick on Twitter.