MLS Counterattack: Goals at a premium for Canadian clubs


Toronto FC forward Sebastian Giovinco (10). (Peter Power/CP)

Welcome to Counterattack, Sportsnet’s Monday column that recaps the weekend and previews the week ahead in Major League Soccer for the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Two hundred and seventy minutes, and not a single goal between the three Canadian teams during the opening weekend of the MLS regular season—although, to be fair, they combined to concede only one goal.

Of the three sides, TFC and the Whitecaps will have been the happiest—the Reds for earning a valuable road point, and Vancouver for keeping a clean sheet, something they had trouble doing last term. Montreal, on the other hand, looked pretty limp, their dynamic attack looking not so dynamic.

What happened?

Toronto 0, Real Salt Lake 0
Montreal 0, San Jose 0
Vancouver 0, Philadelphia 0


What did we learn this weekend?

Maybe it’s time for Giovinco to mix it up
Sebastian Giovinco was seven-for-eight from the penalty spot in MLS ahead of this weekend, all of his shots aimed in the lower left corner—goalkeepers couldn’t do anything to stop him (his lone miss, in 2015, hit the post). Saturday’s penalty attempt wasn’t Giovinco’s best effort, but credit to RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando for calling the Italian’s bluff, not allowing himself to get psyched out, and making the save. Other goalkeepers around MLS will no doubt take notice of this, so you have to wonder when (if?) Giovinco will starting mixing it up and go to his right. Or maybe it’s time to give someone else a turn?

Montreal needs a ‘Plan B’
Montreal is now winless in its last 11 games when trailing at the half (eight losses and three draws), which serves as a bit of indictment of their style of play—sitting back, inviting their opponents to come at them, and then hitting out on the counterattack when they gain possession. The Impact seem to lack a ‘Plan B,’ or an alternative way of breaking down the opposition. Patrice Bernier told Sportsnet ahead of the season that “we have to be a lot more patient and find solutions for creating chances off of possession.” Montreal didn’t find any such solutions on Saturday in San Jose.

Whitecaps lack a creative spark in midfield
Maybe it was fatigue—both mental and physical—from playing in the CONCACAF Champions League three days earlier. But the Whitecaps lacked a bit of urgency going forward at home vs. Philadelphia, with scoring chances few and far between. Matias Laba could do with a creative partner in central midfield—someone who can serve as a link to the front four, who can cut open a defence with through balls and killer passes, and change the course of the game with a burst of pace. The injured Yordy Reyna could be that guy, but we won’t know that until his expected return from injury in the summer.

Upcoming schedule

Toronto vs. Philadelphia (Saturday, 4:30 pm ET)
• Seattle vs. Montreal (Saturday, 7:00 pm ET)
Vancouver vs. San Jose (Saturday, 10:00 pm ET)

After years of pain, Toronto FC providing a template for success in MLS
March 06 2017

Stories to follow this week

Possible line-up changes for TFC
On Saturday, coach Greg Vanney used the same starting 11 from last season’s MLS Cup loss to Seattle. Hardly a surprise, as defender Chris Mavinga was unavailable, and midfielder Victor Vazquez was unfit to start or play a full 90. Vazquez did impress when he came on as a second half substitute in Utah, linking up effectively with Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Does Vanney start the Spaniard this week in Philadelphia? And does he insert Mavinga into the starting 11, or stick with the back three of Drew Moor, Nick Hagglund and Eriq Zavaleta that looked solid vs. RSL?

A case for the defence
Montreal looked defensively suspect in San Jose, with both Hassoun Camara and Laurent Ciman struggling to play the ball from out of the back when pressed by the Earthquakes. Due to the injury of Victor Cabrera, coach Mauro Biello had to shift things around a bit, moving Camara from the right into the middle of the defence. Camara picked up two yellow cards in San Jose and will be suspended for this week’s home opener against Seattle, which complicates matters for Biello—especially if Cabrera isn’t fit to return.

Waston’s return for Vancouver
While scoring was an issue last year, the Whitecaps also allowed 52 goals—the second-most in the Western Conference. On Sunday, though, Vancouver’s back line looked solid, and never looked in danger of conceding. Tim Parker partnered Christian Dean in the middle, with Dean playing in his first MLS game since 2015—he was plagued by injuries last season. Coach Carl Robinson called Dean “absolutely excellent,” but he wouldn’t have started if veteran Kendeal Waston wasn’t suspended. With Waston available for this weekend’s game, it’ll be intriguing to see what Robinson does: Stick with Dean and reward him for his solid showing (and build up his confidence a bit more) or go with the more experienced Waston?


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