TORONTO — The word “intensity,” and the lack thereof, was mentioned ad nauseam by the Montreal Impact, who were undone by a disastrous 22-minute spell in the first half against Toronto FC.
The Impact salvaged one goal, but conceding three times in 22 minutes ultimately led TFC to a 3-1 victory, pulling the Reds to within six points of their Canadian rivals.
Even head coach Remi Garde was miffed by what transpired on the BMO Field pitch.
“I was not expecting that,” Garde said after the match. “We knew before the game that they would put intensity in this game because it’s a derby, it’s a rivalry between the two cities and the two teams. I’m a bit upset about that.”
“We were too flat, I think,” said midfielder Samuel Piette. “We lacked a lot of intensity there. TFC came out pretty strong and we didn’t have that intensity that we really wanted. They won all of the duels, either in the air or on the ground. I think we got unlucky as well on some touches, on the first and third goal, if I’m correct. But it’s not an excuse. It’s a derby and we needed to get some points tonight and we lost the game in the first 20 or 30 minutes.”
Intensity and commitment were common themes, but full-back Daniel Lovitz had a slightly different view.
“It was too quiet out there,” said Lovitz. “That was something I felt in the first half, for sure. In the second half, we knew that they were going to be a little more nervous if we apply pressure and they didn’t really have any chances in the second half. It just came down to us not being clinical enough in the box, not being connected enough when we attacked and defended. It just wasn’t an all-around good effort. The foundation of things in terms of how we worked together, how we talked together, certainly wasn’t there tonight and we have to look at that.”
Garde made a few surprising tweaks to his lineup. Saphir Taider moved to the left and Ignacio Piatti started up front as a false nine of sorts. Michael Azira slotted into the midfield, with Taider tucking in centrally when TFC had possession.
“It was the first time, I think, we played that way this year,” said Daniel Lovitz, who’s also a former TFC player. “We weren’t exactly sure what it was going to look like, but it gave us some opportunities that we maybe wouldn’t have had in a normal situation. Again, we weren’t really looking to have it be perfect or anything like that because we knew the game was a derby match. It was going to be a wild one no matter what.”
The Impact have been quite resilient in recent weeks, so this performance was surprising. Montreal twice held a lead in Portland before settling for a draw with the Timbers on July 21 and tied Real Salt Lake on the road. A late strike from Lovitz also helped secure a vital win over the lowly Chicago Fire in the previous match.
Therefore, a matchup against a fierce rival should have provided enough motivation for the Impact, especially with the chance to go 12 points clear of Toronto.
“Maybe because we’ve got a lot of new guys on this team that have never been a part of this before,” goalkeeper Evan Bush suggested. “So maybe they thought it was going to be one thing and it was something else.
Fortunately for Montreal, most of their remaining games are against sides battling for the playoffs. The Impact face the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United, plus the two New York clubs, in September.
“Every game that we have going forward here are against teams that are right around us,” said Bush. “Every game is important. Every game should feel like a playoff game. If we’re not ready for a battle – first and foremost – going into these games, it’s going to be similar results to what we had tonight.”
A rematch with TFC awaits on Oct. 21 at Stade Saputo. With both sides fighting for their playoff lives, that final derby could be extra intense. For the Impact’s sake, though, they’ll need that ferocity beginning next Saturday against the New York Red Bulls.