Thursday, May 7, 2015

How to Avoid the Impact: A Primer to Montreal v. Portland (and Week 10 Previews)

Ah, high school lit....great goddamn short story.
Yessir, Major League Soccer officially hits double digits this weekend. Yep, one step closer to all of the players taking the field in these games wearing the importance of occasion like the ability/beauty impediments from Harrison Bergeron. Soon, we'll see how they cope...

This week, like every week, begins with the preview for the game closest to home: the Portland Timbers' visit to the wilds of French Canadia (no typo). Once that's done, I'll touch briefly on the rest of the games for the weekend ahead, as in, what the Hell is UP, MLS, with this Tuesday game bullshit? (Not that anyone watched that one; Houston Dynamo v. San Jose Earthquakes...shudder.) There's also a game on tonight, of course. It could very well be going on as I type this. I'm talking about Real Salt Lake v Los Angeles Galaxy. Let the record show that, sight unseen (seriously; I don't lie about this stuff), I'm calling this one a dreary 1-0 for LA. Feel good about that, seeing is this one's like a game on a cloudy night (e.g. no stars). (Almost happened, it turns out; I just saw a headline that said LA got Rimando'd. HA!)

Anyway, on the main event. Well, for some of us...

Montreal Impact v. Portland Timbers
Large parts of Quebec are terra incognita to most folks, even most Quebecois I reckon. I mean, have you seen the friggin' province? Goes on forever, I tell you. And that's fitting, in a way, seeing as, more than any other MLS club, Montreal is this year's undiscovered team. Setting aside the CONCACAF Champions' League (CCL), Montreal has played just four league games this 2015. They didn't do well in those, obviously, hence the whole "bottom of the table" business. And yet, all those games in hand can spell opportunity. Had one watched nothing but Montreal in the first leg of the CCL final, he/she would be thinking, holy crap that's a lock-down defense and that Piatti guy (first name, Ignacio) is one lethally-weaponized sneaky shit. On the other hand, if one watched the second leg, the second half in particular, he/she would think the Impact couldn't defend a punch from a toddler.

Tonight, I set out to educate myself on the Montreal Impact, at least to the extent (literally) possible (because, time). So, I sat down to watch condensed versions of Montreal's last three games in MLS. Which comes perilously close to taking in Montreal's entire oeuvre. At any rate, here is what I learned...

It might sound like a stroke of luck that Montreal had played just tonight – e.g. the Canada/Amway/The Fuck It's Called Championship game against Toronto FC. Sadly, the video guys haven't yet distilled it into the sweet, sweet nectar of condensed game. Hopping around at random to get 20 minutes of content ain't exactly scientific. So, without knowing what I missed (yes, obviously, I poked around the time of the goal), I'd say Montreal was good for that 1-0. Nigel Reo-Coker again played right back, and he was the guy who crossed the ball into Jack McInerney, who punted the ball into the net at the far side. TFC barely defended any portion of that particular play, and they looked vulnerable a couple other times besides. So, there's that. Something else to consider: TFC sat some big guns - Jozy Altidore, Benoit Cheyrou, and Sebastian Giovinco – which is something for the file (a better offense creates its own defense) – but I'll stop there and call that tonight's half-assed nutshell. What about the past?

Of Montreal...wait, no, On Montreal
The Data Set
March 8, 2015 v. Orlando City SC (highlights)
April 11, 2015 @ Houston Dynamo (recap/highlights)

The Information
Key Men
Piatti didn't start tonight (though he did come on later), nor did some other key men – Bakary Soumare, Evan Bush, Andres Romero, and Dilly Duka (if you count him as key; I do). That tells me that Montreal could be, at last, prioritizing MLS league play. That said, a couple other players I rate as "key" did start – McInerney, for one, but also Reo-Coker (still out of position, though), Ciman, Calum Mallace (though he was subbed...weird stuff, here, from head coach Frank Klopas), and once-perhaps-current key man, Patrice Bernier. At any rate, here's what I know about all these players:

If he's out there, Piatti will function as a Diego Valeri-esque pivot for Montreal's attack – and he is damn good. McInerney has consistently looked both active and inventive on Montreal's front-line; he will require both alertness and attention as a result. Oduro is Oduro: fast, but given to really long, leaden touches; that said, he looked fairly sharp against Toronto. And, whoops, forgot one more key player: Eric Alexander. Yeah, the guy who spent some time with Portland and generally underwhelmed. If you've followed him since then, at all, you've seen a solid performer/force-multiplier for his given club. He and Bernier together should be pretty solid.

What I Expect They'll Do – Attacking
This is a tough one, actually, because all that time Montreal has spent coping with CONCACAF's top teams has obliged them to rely heavily on defend-'n'-counter. The Impact went with more of a high press against Toronto and, again, based on what I saw, it paid off pretty nicely. When they do get going, though, Montreal is very, very direct. Yeah, yeah, that's becoming almost a cliché for MLS clubs in 2015, but it's true all the same: Montreal likes to spread the field and go, baby, go, whether it's springing Oduro, or getting Piatti into some space where he can create some magic, the Impact's players appear to like having room to operate. Mallace, for one, hits one hell of a long-ball. So does Marco Donadel (whom I've neglected to mention; again, whoops), who also takes their set pieces. And who also looks a bit like a caveman from the old Geico ads. Just sayin'.

On Portland
All right, we all know the story: Portland is defending just fine, but the attack is strictly soft-serve. (Yes, insulting manhood can be a motivator. I said, can.) I've read that the club creates "plenty of opportunities," that's a recurring theme, in fact, but it really doesn't feel that way. And my memory tells me other things, too. Whatever I hope for (answer: more), I figure the Timbers will get four, maybe five chances against Montreal. The question is how to get good ones.

Of the five goals I watched Montreal let in over those three condensed games (plus several others dimly-remembered from that thrashing by Club America), one thing stood out: this team sorta sucks at defending in transition. Basically, if you get them backing away toward their own goal, their defenders collapse and, too often, their midfield sort of jogs back. Somewhat interestedly, but not so...say, what's that? The result is a pretty damn large gap between their lines – we're talking about 10 yards+ - where Portland's midfielders can operate. Ideally, all that space will encourage Timbers players to do what they're often loathe to do – e.g. shoot the goddamn ball instead of playing some weird game where you have to pass three times before shooting...honestly, is this some kind of drill? That's not to discourage a good pass, either, because a good player with that much space can play in a nicely-weighted ball to the right run. The point is, Montreal does leave gaps under the right circumstances, but the thing is not to futz with the goddamn ball. As in, get to it, dammit.

Another thing I noted about Montreal's defense: they're a little weak on 1-v-1 defending, specifically, attacking players who follow through on their touches/challenges often seem to see the ball bounce to the other side of Montreal's players. With that in mind, the direction here would be to follow through. Always.

Due to the directness of their play, Montreal might be a little tricky to defend in the midfield. That means Portland's defenders will need to be hella alert (yes, I said "hella") in their 1-v-1 situations, and with being ready to cover when their teammate gets beat. I think a lot of pressure will go onto Portland's back four, but I think they're up for it. Just watch frickin' McInerney.

Finally (and sorry! Rambling!), how should Portland line-up? I'd fight counter-with-counter in this one. Portland has done the direct thing this season as well, so I think the Timbers are up to a defend and counter. I'd do a 4-5-1 (and, what the hell? Call it a 4-2-3-1 if it makes you feel better) and, god's honest truth, I don't think it matters if the Timbers play Fanendo Adi or Maximiliano Urruti up top. They have officially reached "wash" territory for me. And, finally, finally: how long to play Diego Valeri? I'd start him this time and pull him as needed. By that I mean, as soon as, if not a little before.

Jesus, I'd say that's ample. On to the rest of the mess.

Orlando City SC v. New England Revolution
Facing a virtually forward-less Orlando team, New England should be free to attack and/or run naked through the meadows of their imagination...yeah, burned some brain-cells with the effort above. Anyway, Orlando defends all right, but the Revs are a tall order lately. Should be New England's game.

Colorado Rapids v. San Jose Earthquakes
Simply put, this game has awful potential to be truly awful. The (relative) quality will turn on Colorado’s ability to turn all that coherence and promise into real, tangible goals. If they get two, I'm confident they win this.

Chicago Fire v. Real Salt Lake
I want Chicago's offense to light up again, but RSL has serious wet-blanket qualities. The Fire's last outing against KC showed how a good team can limit them. RSL, on the other hand, looks like a team that might never score again – especially if Javier Morales can't suit up.

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Philadelphia Union
Vancouver, just when you need to get back on track after a mildly iffy run (D-L-W-L-D), you have been given a gift, a golden opportunity to get back on track. You're at home. Against Philadelphia. This will happen, literally, once this season.

DC United v. Sporting Kansas City
One of the weekend's more promising match-ups for sure. DC looks absolutely poised and controlled; just methodically lethal (yeah, yeah, I used the word "methodical" again to describe DC; at least it's used as a modifier of a modifier this time). KC...well, they could be coming into their own. They'll need something special, though, to rattle DC out of its shell. Just hoping I don't hear the word "chess match."

Columbus Crew SC v. Seattle Sounders
Probably the highlight of the weekend. DC showed how a quick and clean attack can undo all the good work Columbus does – and Seattle is even likelier to punish any gaffe like some kind of sadistic, sexy nun. So long as the Sounders can keep out Columbus, they're a good bet to steal points in this one.

FC Dallas v. Los Angeles Galaxy
They sorta keep coming, huh? Good games, I mean. Dallas has the weapons to undo LA, certainly, but LA damn sure ain't Houston. They will be an absolute pain in the ass to break down. That said, I think I speak for fans around the league when I say I hope they do it early and often.

Toronto FC v. Houston Dynamo
This one could rain goals. I expect it will, actually. The fascinating thing will be which team comes out on top. Incidentally, this is TFC's home opener. If they fail to pick up all three points after that long of a wait, just keep the suicide hotlines open..

New York Red Bulls v. New York City FC
This could have been so much more promising, but New York Jr. (NYCFC) is likelier to struggle more than most against O.G. New York's (the Red Bulls, aka OGNY) high-press, roll-'em-like-drunks attack. If this isn't a win for OGNY, they've got reason to worry.

And…totally spent now. Till tomorrow. I hope to get one more post up before the weekend.


  1. Since it was two Western Conf. teams, I tried to watch the MLS Live replay of SJ v. HOU, but fell asleep at 60'.

    I'm predicting an Adi start, but I'm wondering how much CP is toying with the idea of ever starting Asprilla up top. What do you think?

  2. Funny you should ask. Discussed that briefly in the post after this one. Quick answer: no idea what Porter's thinking, but if he didn't bring in Asprilla with that option realistically in mind, Portland needs to think harder about who it's signing.

    I blabbed about it in #2 in this post (no time to hyperlink):