The 401 Derby has to be the best and fiercest rivalry in all of Major League Soccer, routinely producing games filled with great drama and tension. Who can forget last season’s epic Eastern Conference final, touted by many as the greatest playoff series in league history?
One of the reasons the matches have been so great has been because there’s almost always something on the line. Sunday afternoon’s meeting at Stade Saputo is no different, with TFC chasing history, and the Impact trying to solidify their playoff hopes.
So, there’s a lot riding on this game. But that’s not the only explanation as to why Sunday’s match promises to be an entertaining affair. Two of the finest, most skilled midfielders in MLS will be on display when Toronto’s Victor Vazquez goes up against Ignacio Piatti of Montreal.
An off-season free-agent signing, Vazquez has been absolutely exquisite in his debut MLS campaign, pulling the creative strings from central midfield for Toronto.
Vazquez has added a touch of elegance and class to TFC, his sublime skill on the ball and ability to effectively link up with forwards Jozy Altdore and Sebastian Giovinco bolstering what already was one of the league’s best attacks. In 24 appearances this year, the silky smooth native of Barcelona has tallied five goals, and a league-leading 13 assists, including two in the Reds’ midweek win over the Philadelphia Union.
What makes Vazquez especially dangerous is he doesn’t dawdle while in possession. He’s always looking to move the ball along as soon as it lands at his feet, using his great vision to pick out teammates with a killer pass. Little wonder, then, that Montreal will keep close tabs on the Spaniard on Sunday.
“For a guy like that, you have to minimize his time and space on the ball. To do be able to do that, we have to be compact… and be aware of where he is at all times, especially on the weak side. He likes to get the ball on that week side, on the switch and in open gaps. We have to be prepared for that,” Montreal coach Mauro Biello offered.
Like Vazquez, Piatti is enjoying a strong season for the Impact, with 14 goals in 19 games, while recording four assists. The Argentine ace is the engine that powers this Montreal team, tormenting defenders with his nose for the goal and ability to play teammates into scoring positions.
Piatti is particularly dangerous in transition, which makes him a perfect fit for Montreal’s counter-attacking style. The trick to minimizing his influence is to force him to defend, according to Toronto coach Greg Vanney.
“We have to be very responsible with the ball, and not lose balls in bad places. Part of being responsible with the ball is to force him to defend. If he actually has to defend, because you can hurt them especially on that side when he’s not defending, then eventually they have make an adjustment or he has to adjust his game,” Vanney explained.
“We have to make sure that we have accountability for him when transitions take place, that he doesn’t get the freedom to just get on the ball and start running at our back line, or find himself in on-one-one situations.”
Altidore warned of Piatti’s ability to come off the wing, and then drift into dangerous areas near the 18-yard box.
“He’s on the left side and he lulls you to sleep and then boom – he’s at your net… He’s a guy we have to look out for; he’s a very dangerous player, him and [Impact forward Matteo] Mancosu, they have good combinations. We have to be aware of that,” Altidore said.
Vazquez and Piatti go about their business in different ways. Both very effective, but both very different from each other.
Are there any similarities between the two star creators? Biello doesn’t think so.
“They’re two different players. The similarity would probably be more with [Impact midfielder Blerim] Dzemaili and Vazquez. Piatti has a different type of profile,” Biello offered.
“I think Vazquez has done well; he’s a very good passer, a guy who finds those open gaps and then he’s able to create and do what he does best.”
Vanney, though, does see some similar characteristics in both players.
“I think their vision in the game. Technically, they have the capacity to do special things. Piatti is a little bit more of a dribbler, a one-on-one guy who creates a lot of his own opportunities. He’s more of a natural winger who can come from the outside to the inside, whereas Victor is a little bit more of a guy who sets up the game,” Vanney said.
“[Vazquez] sprays the ball around and gets other people involved… Anytime you have guys who can make plays for your team or are game-changers, there’s some similarities in those guys. But they do it in very different ways.”
NOTES: The Impact have won six of their last seven games at home, with one loss… Toronto leads the all-time regular-season series against Montreal, with six wins and four draws in 14 contests… Sunday marks the first meeting of this campaign between the clubs. They’ll face off again on Sept. 20 and Oct 15, with both games at BMO Field… Although they haven’t met in MLS play, TFC did beat the Impact in the two-legged final of the Canadian Championship back in June… The Reds have a bye next week, while the Impact host the Chicago Fire on Sept. 2.