Impact vs. TFC: A match of slender margins

For the first time ever, every Canadian team will be in the MLS playoffs. James Sharman and Brendan Dunlop preview the action, including Toronto FC’s game against the red-hot Montreal Impact.

In a wild and dramatic derby game on the final day of the Major League regular season, the Montreal Impact earned a 2-1 win over Toronto FC at Stade Saputo on Sunday night courtesy of two quick Didier Drogba goals early in the second half.

Here are my three thoughts on the match.

A game and league of slender margins
You’ve heard of the cliché about gridiron football being a game of inches? Soccer, and MLS in a particular, is a game of slender, tiny margins.

Jozy Altidore scored late in the first half to give Toronto a 1-0 lead going into the break, a well-deserved advantage for TFC after the way they controlled the game through the first 45 minutes. At the start of the second half, TFC was sitting third in the Eastern Conference while the Impact were in sixth, and Toronto was in a position to host Montreal in the first round of the playoffs this Thursday.

But then Drogba struck, bagging a brace within a two-minute span shortly after the restart to turn the game and the East standings on their head. Now, all of a sudden, Montreal was sitting third and Toronto had dropped to sixth, and the Impact were in the pole position to host TFC on Thursday.

Of course, it wasn’t over. A draw would have been good enough to propel Toronto back into third, giving them the right to host in the playoffs next week. They nearly did it, too, except Michael Bradley slammed his shot from inside the 18-yard box off the woodwork, and substitute Hassoun Camara made a brilliant, last-ditch tackle to deny Altidore of a scoring opportunity on the edge of the six-yard box late in the game.

The Impact held on and as result TFC remained in sixth, while Montreal clinched third and home field advantage. But it could so easily have gone the other way.

Slender, tiny margins.

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What to do about Kantari?
Central defender Ahmed Kantari had his worst game in a Toronto FC uniform on Sunday night, committing a number of individual errors and was guilty of ball watching at times.

He was culpable on both goals, allowing Drogba to get away from him too easily to score two goals within a minute of each other. A horrendous turnover by Kantari on the edge of the penalty area—he was foolishly trying to play his way out of trouble—nearly led to a third goal. Instead Drogba nailed his shot off the crossbar.

With Damien Perquis out injured with a hamstring, TFC coach Greg Vanney has a dilemma on his hands. Can he really trust the Moroccan in Thursday’s playoff match in Montreal after such a terrible performance in this game?

Would Vanney take a gamble and start Eriq Zavaleta next to Josh Williams in the centre of defence? Zavaleta did have a run of seven consecutive starts from May 23 to July 4. But he is less experienced than Kantari and hasn’t started a game since Sept. 5, and has only played 20 minutes since then. Another less-likely option would be to shift Justin Morrow into the middle, and start Ashtone Morgan at left fullback.

Of course, he could stick with Kantari. But at the Moroccan has done little to dispel the widely-held belief that he is a liability on the back line.

Bush an unheralded hero for Montreal
Didier Drogba was the hero for Montreal on Sunday, and has been the main reason for the Impact’s amazing turnaround over the last two months. The Ivorian’s 11 goals in 11 games since coming to MLS helped revitalize a team that was sinking and in a bit of a crisis after firing coach Frank Klopas. Drogba’s influence can’t be over-stated.

That being said, Evan Bush has been an unheralded hero for Montreal during a stretch that has seen the team climb to third in the East by winning seven of 11 games with only two draws. Bush started in 10 of those games, recording five clean sheets along the way, and helped to stabilize a Montreal defence with his poised and mature play.

On Sunday, he made a number of key saves, including robbing Robbie Findlay of a sure goal when he tipped the TFC forward’s header off a brilliant cross from Giovinco over the crossbar. He also denied Giovinco on a clear breakaway after the Italian was played in on goal by a raking pass from Findley. Giovinco was called for offside, but Bush didn’t know that and he was commanding in rushing out to stop the league’s top goal scorer.

After paying his dues in lower leagues and biding his time as the backup behind Troy Perkins, Bush has come into his own as a reliable starter this season in Montreal, and has lifted his game at the most important time of the year.

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