MLS Counterattack: Rough start to season for Giovinco


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.

We’re two weeks into the MLS season and all three Canadian teams have yet to pick up a win, and they have combined to take just four out of a possible 18 points. Time to panic, right? Nah, it’s still early.

What happened?

Toronto 2, Philadelphia 2
Seattle 2, Montreal 2
Vancouver 2, San Jose 3

What did we learn this weekend?

Tough start continues for Giovinco
Sebastian Giovinco has had a rough time of it early on in the campaign. In last week’s season opener away to Real Salt Lake, the Italian saw his penalty attempt saved by Nick Rimando—his first penalty miss since 2015. Then on Saturday, Giovinco fell to the field in a heap after being challenged by Philadelphia defender Oguchi Onyewu in the 43rd minute. The Atomic Ant came out of the game with a leg contusion, and is now scoreless through the first two matches of the season.

Montreal can play more than one way
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 on Saturday, though, we saw a fair bit of tactical variety from Montreal. Before their late-game collapse, the Impact put in a balanced performance, 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.

Hurtado showing more maturity
It was overshadowed by David Ousted’s red card and the loss in San Jose, but Erik Hurtado put in a great performance on Saturday, building on his solid outing from the season opener. Hurtado astutely capitalized on a mistake by San Jose’s Florian Jungwirth to sore the opener in the second minute, and then he set up Nicolas Mezquida’s strike to give the Whitecaps a two-goal cushion. The speedy youngster has shown maturity and genuine growth in his game early on this season.


Upcoming schedule

Montreal vs. New York City (Saturday, 2:00 pm ET)
Toronto vs. Vancouver (Saturday, 4:00 pm ET)

Stories to follow this week

Whitecaps’ balancing act
It’s a busy week for the ‘Caps, who travel to Mexico to face Liga MX champion Tigres UANL in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals on Tuesday, and then host Toronto FC at BC Place on Saturday afternoon. With Ousted suspended for the all-Canadian affair, Paolo Tornaghi will likely start in goal vs. TFC. But what other line-up changes might coach Carl Robinson make? Will he rotate his squad over the two games or put out a full-strength side for both matches? It’ll be interesting to see how the Welshman handles this week from both a tactical and player selection perspective.

Which Impact will we see?
In last week’s season opener, away to San Jose, we saw a Montreal side that has become renowned for sitting deep and hitting out on the counterattack. But at home against Seattle on Saturday, the Impact opened up a fair bit, playing aggressively in trying to take the game to the Sounders. For 80 minutes, it worked. Will the Impact stick with that game plan that brought them relative success at home? Or will they revert to their old ways vs. NYCFC at Yankee Stadium this weekend?

Giovinco’s status for Vancouver
Giovinco missed the second half of the game against Philadelphia with a leg contusion that left him a great deal of pain. Depending on how he responds in training this week, the Italian could be available to play against the Whitecaps on Saturday. But it’s a long plane ride to Vancouver, which won’t do his sore leg any good. With MLS off next week for the international break, it might make sense to leave Giovinco at home, giving him extra time to heal and recuperate—no need to rush him back to action this early in the season if he’s not fully fit.

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