Monday, July 25, 2016

Montreal, Philadelphia, Pontius, Piatti (Tinker, Tailor...)

Y'know, I'm seeing the likeness now.
[Montreal Impact v. Philadelphia Union was one of three games I took in this weekend. If I'm watching 'em, shouldn't I be writing about them? Otherwise, why was I watching it?]

Hey, let's throw another log on the raging bonfire of Everything I've Gotten Wrong. Last week (was it last week? nope; there it is), I dubbed the Philadelphia Union the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. This past Saturday, the Montreal Impact kicked one leg after another out from under the platform. Then they kicked Philly's prostrate body one more time for good measure.

Jesus, was that a brutal loss. By the end of the 5-1 rout, the Impact was toying with the Union. (Albeit with a few liters less piss-and-vinegar than Sacha Kljestan poured on New York City FC in another of this weekend's routs). It wasn't all terrible news for Philly – Keegan Rosenberry showed flashes of one-on-one defending brilliance and Josh Yaro stepped up sharply and smartly as you like a couple times; both good signs – but one key problem stood out from the Union's point of view: they simply could not keep Montreal's attackers in front of them. The Impact went vertical at will (am I using that word right? I know I didn't coin it, so, relevant), by which I mean they repeatedly found ways to run straight at the Union's defenders and to send them reeling toward their own goal.

The one thing that most convinced me that Philly had the chops to go deep was the number of ways they found to get at opposing defenses, the way they seemed capable of launching attacks from all over the attacking third. Well, Montreal cut all right wires and defused that threat: C. J. Sapong got knocked around every time the ball came anywhere near him, but he didn't get beat up all that much precisely because the ball so rarely got anywhere near him. With Sapong out of the picture, the Union's best, thinly-promising attacks went through Chris Pontius. He also scored their only goal...which had the commentators talking about Philly being "back in the game"...but they were shamless homers, the statement was untrue on its face, etc. Very sad...

There's an opportunity for a contrast here, between Philly's most effective attacker on the day, and Montreal's, Ignacio Piatti. Didier Drogba's hat-trick, though borne from doing the right things well, came from Piatti's persistent bedevilment of the Union midfield (the only pure sample I could (easily) find), their defenders, probably even the coaching staff; hell, Piatti probably traumatized a couple ball-boys by way of the beat-down he put on Union. It was like watching Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, I tell you, the time he went underground and kicked an army's ass? (Or did that just happen in Fistful of Yen?) (I'm not saying watch that clip - it's, uh, dated? Good spoof, if a tasteless one.) Foes at his feet, etc. Piatti's always hell to push off the ball, but he did one thing over and OVER Saturday that just tore Philly apart: he turned defenders absolutely, and 100% at will. At one magically depressing moment, he lured two Philly players out of the attacking third, looking for the world like he's being forced into dropping the ball; next thing you know, Piatti turns around one of them and off he goes to surge toward goal with the acres both players vacated ahead of him.

Pontius did something super-human just to keep pressing, and his nuanced header was just reward for valor, but the contrast between his game and Piatti's yawns wide: Pontius has speed and size, but, against that Piatti has speed, size, technical ability, subtlety, and something like goddamn Spider-sense when it comes to shifting past a player. The end-result was simple: Piatti held the Union up while Drogba pummeled their face again and again.

I'm not sour on Philadelphia, even though their results have not been good recently; I'm not ready to crown Montreal favorites, but that's not exactly crazy. Here, I'm just recognizing that they've got players on their roster who can totally fuck up the team of your choice. Or repeating it, really.

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