With a 1-0 road loss to the Houston Dynamo Saturday night, the Montreal Impact fell to 0-2-0 to start their third MLS campaign.
Though the Impact can take many positives from their overall display, a glaring lack of killer instinct in the final-third ultimately proved their downfall.
Coach Frank Klopas got his tactics right for this one. Seeing the way New England was outnumbered in central midfield last week against Houston—it played with one holding midfielder—and was repeatedly exposed by Houston’s mercilessly quick transition game, Klopas clogged up the middle of the park with a 4-3-2-1 formation. He deployed three central midfielders in front of the back-line, combined with Justin Mapp and Felipe in more central roles behind forward Andrew Wenger.
This arrangement worked well, as the Dynamo’s diamond midfield was, more often not, immediately closed down and given very little time and space on the ball. With numerical advantage in central midfield, the Impact were also often able to effectively maintain possession and control the pace of the game.
Negative: Andrew Wenger
Given the quality of their possession and, especially, the many excellent scoring chances they were able to muster, Montreal will feel it should have gotten something out of the game. Moreover, Impact fans will be left wondering whether Wenger’s excellent performance against Dallas in the season opener wasn’t, after all, an indication of the 23-year-old having finally turned the corner, but a mere performance blip instead.
Against Houston, Wenger looked like last year’s version of himself. Though his movement and link-up play was generally very good, he squandered several quality scoring opportunities, including a clear breakaway opportunity in the first half where he couldn’t even manage to get a shot off and test goalkeeper Tally Hall.
Positive: Eric Miller
Arguably the most pleasant surprise for the Impact so far from these opening two games has been the very steady performances of right fullback Eric Miller, the Impact’s top pick in this year’s draft. Aside from having all the necessary physical attributes, tactically he’s shown a maturity beyond his years: he’s always extremely attentive to his positioning and he interprets defensive situations quite well.
Technically, he’s no slouch either. And with a little work he could even be groomed into a central defender, a possibility that Klopas alluded to following his selection. It’s still early days of course, but given how well Miller has played and Adrian Lopez’s impending return to the lineup, the Impact might very well live to regret their decision to sign Heath Pearce. The health of their back-line might not be as bad as previously thought.
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Negative: Di Vaio dependency
As much as the Impact dictated the play in the second half against Houston, it never seemed like they were ever going to find the equalizer. This Impact side is still very much dependent on Marco Di Vaio banging in the goals for them and that’s a great concern for the team’s prospects this season. New signing Santiago Gonzalez hasn’t seen too much action yet and now might be the time to throw him into the mix right from the start against Seattle at the Big O next weekend.
Positive: Patrice Bernier
Patrice Bernier isn’t the type of captain that’s going to throw a tantrum in the locker-room when things aren’t going well: he’s the lead by example type. Bernier made his first start against Houston and his presence was immediately felt, as he showed off his range of passing, his gift of subtly veering out of tight spaces and his ability to singlehandedly control a game’s tempo.
The Brossard native is a prince of the delicate game and the Impact are going to need him fit and healthy this season. Managing his minutes will be fundamental for the team’s success.
Negative: All about results
What really stings for the Impact is that they’ve played well in these two opening games, but have nothing to show for it. What happens when they start playing badly?
They need to start picking up some results, and fast, starting with Seattle on Saturday, or else their season could get away from them very quickly.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.