There was a vintage Italian feel to the Montreal Impact’s stunning 4-2 win over D.C. United on Thursday in the opening round of the MLS playoffs.
Tactically perfect, ruthless on the counter, and playing at their best while dealing with a bit of a team scandal.
That the Impact could win the game was certainly not out of the question—they had, after all, drawn D.C. United in the two games they played against them earlier this season.
But with D.C. in excellent form and having home field advantage, and Montreal in the middle of a controversy involving star forward Didier Drogba and seldom being very convincing this season, not many could have seriously envisioned them dominating the game in the way that they did.
On the touchline at the halftime break, by which time the Impact were already leading 2-0, D.C coach Ben Olsen looked completely dumbfounded at his side’s ineptness. Perhaps there was some complacency on United’s part, but it was the Impact who ultimately made them look bad, displaying superior tactical organization, which forced D.C to move the ball sideways away from danger areas.
D.C., the same team that scored 34 goals in its previous 14 games, only managed its first shot on goal in the 76th minute. They did finally manage to score twice late in the match, but by then it was already over.
“At halftime, we made some adjustments in order to keep control in the first minutes of the second half,” said midfielder Marco Donadel, who was fantastic on the night for the Impact.
“When you’re down 2-0, you can score in the first minutes and be halfway there. They started to push, but instead, we found spaces to attack.”
Winning many of the important duels in midfield, the Impact displayed more quality in the final third of the pitch, led by the excellent Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine playmaker might not win the league’s MVP award, but should certainly be a bigger part of the discussion. His assist on the second goal was of the world class variety.
And once again, in Drogba’s absence, Italian striker Matteo Mancosu was hugely important, scoring two goals in the game. Mancosu, a mid-season loan signing, has been a superb acquisition for Montreal. He now has five goals and five assists in 16 appearances, eight from the start. And his continued success adds further validation to the argument that coach Mauro Biello’s decision to prefer him over the Ivorian over these last few weeks has been the right one.
“It is so easy to play with such a great player like Nacho Piatti,” Mancosu said. “We are really happy with this result, and we’re confident that we’ll do well in the next two games. We’ll recover well over the next two days and be ready to go.”
As brilliant as the performance was, however, the Impact unfortunately don’t have much time to celebrate, as they now must focus on Sunday’s opening leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Red Bulls.
That’s going to be a much more difficult task, especially as the Impact will likely be tired after the effort they gave and will have perhaps lost the element of surprise, which they had in this game. But if they’re going to get to the conference finals, they must find a way to raise their level of play once more.
And for that, they’re probably going to need Drogba.
Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues.