Collapse aside, Montreal Impact showed improved play versus Sounders

Montreal-Impact's-Matteo-Mancosu,-right,-challenges-Seattle-Sounders-FC's-Roman-Torres-during-first-half-MLS-soccer-action-in-Montreal,-Saturday,-March-11,-2017.-(Graham-Hughes/CP)

Seattle Sounders FC's Roman Torres, middle, has been suspended one game for kicking Montreal Impact's Ambroise Oyongo. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MONTREAL – You could see the contempt in Mauro Biello’s eyes, hear the seething rage in his voice.

“It’s as if my team was just waiting for the final whistle, and that’s what pissed me off. In the end, you have to play with urgency all the time,” Biello fumed.

Up 2-0 against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday in its home opener, Montreal looked set to earn a valuable three points. But then Impact defender Laurent Ciman was called for a foul on Oniel Fisher inside the 18-yard area, giving the Sounders a life line. Nicolas Lodeiro converted from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute, and Will Bruin netted the tying goal deep into injury time after Montreal couldn’t clear its lines during a goalmouth scramble.

It could and should have been so much different for the Impact. Somehow they let a win slip through their fingers, allowing the Sounders to steal a point that, on the balance of play, rather flattered them.

After the game both Biello and goalkeeper Evan Bush—who berated his teammates on the pitch when Bruin’s shot found the back of the net—could barely hide their anger when speaking to the media.

“I thought in the 77th minute, we were comfortable,” Bush said. “Looking back to last year, it was the same thing, we were up 3-0 on Toronto [in the playoffs], we got comfortable. We want to hear the olés from the crowd. But it’s not the time. You have to finish the game, keep the clean sheet.”

Biello and Bush had every right to be pissed off. The game is 90 minutes, and you have to stay focused for all of them. You can run circles around your opponent all you want, but you don’t get style points, and in the end you tend to get what you deserve. On this night, the Impact deserved a draw after throwing away a two-goal lead so late in the proceedings.

That said, there were plenty of positives from the Impact on this night, and they can use this game—well, most of it, anyway—as a reference point going forward.

Before the collapse, Montreal put in a balanced performance that bore no resemblance to their tame effort in a 1-0 loss away to the San Jose Earthquakes in their season opener last week. For 80 minutes, Montreal dominated Seattle, using their speed on the transition, a high pressing style to force turnovers, and the sheer creativity of midfield ace Ignacio Piatti to outplay the reigning MLS Cup champions.

“I don’t want to be too negative because we did a lot of good things,” captain Patrice Bernier said. “Compared to last week, it’s night and day. We had possession. We recovered the ball. We created a lot of chances. We were intense.”

Known for their counter-attacking style and sitting deep, the Impact were dangerous in transition against Seattle, especially down the flanks. The Impact also managed to control the game with solid possession play, forcing the Sounders to chase for long stretches.

The criticism of the Impact last season was that they were too one-dimensional, that they relied too much on the counter, and that they could only beat you one way. Against Seattle, though, we saw a fair bit of tactical variety from Montreal, which wasn’t lost on Biello.

“We have to learn to better manage the games,” Biello stated “We have to fight to the end and avoid lapses in concentration. [But] there were positives: there were moments when we played out of the back, found solutions, unbalanced [Seattle] and created two goals.”

Ciman offered an public apology to his teammates, stating that the Impact would have won if not for his indiscretion that led to the Sounders’ comeback.

But like his coach, the Belgian highlighted the Impact’s strengths on the night.

“We can be happy with our attack. We saw some good things. We played out of the back and put together some nice sequences. We have to look at what we didn’t do well and work hard to go further next time,” Ciman offered.

Another good sign for the Impact was the collective play of Piatti and Matteo Mancosu. The dynamic pair showed the same devastating chemistry they displayed in the second half of last season and in the playoffs, effectively linking up throughout the game. It was Piatti’s sublime through ball that unlocked Seattle’s defence, allowing the Italian forward to run onto it, break in on goal, and open the scoring in the 17th minute.

Mancosu acted as decoy down the left flank for Piatti in the 51st minute as the Argentine raced down the middle of the pitch, gave two defenders the slip and fired a shot from outside the box past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.

It was a perfectly executed counter attack, launched from midfield by Bernier.

“We played a team that’s good on the ball,” Bernier said. “I can’t say it plays into our hands, but they move a lot of pieces forward and you saw on the second goal, we recovered and Nacho does his thing,” Bernier said.

“It’s good to know we can do the things we’re known for, but we still have to manage the game.”

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