After dispatching Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union in emphatic fashion the week before, the Montreal Impact travelled to Denver to take on the struggling Colorado Rapids. With their place in the post-season in jeopardy, Rémi Garde’s men desperately needed the three points. Despite being away from home, the Impact went into the game as favourites. After all, they were playing the second to last place team in MLS. However, as has been the case for Montreal in the past against the league’s cellar dwellers, the Impact struggled and succumbed by a score of 6-3.
While the Impact are currently in sixth, both Toronto FC and the New England Revolution have a game in hand. This tactical analysis will examine how the Impact were bested in their latest encounter.
The Montreal Impact went into this game with a bog-standard 4-4-2, with Maximiliano Urruti pairing Ignacio Piatti up top. In Samuel Piette’s absence in the middle of the park, Garde opted for Saphir Taider and Shamit Shome. Bologna loanees Lassi Lappalainen and Orji Okwonkwo rounded out the midfield and were deployed on the wings. In defence, there were no major surprises as Garde went with his preferred centre-back duo of Jukka Raitala and Zakaria Diallo.
The Colorado Rapids mirrored the Impact’s 4-4-2, however, attacking midfielder Diego Rubio mainly operated in the hole behind Kei Kamara. With Jack Price and Kellyn Acosta sitting deep in a classic double pivot, Andre Shinyashiki and Sam Nicholson were given the license to get forward on the wings. In many ways, the Rapids played most of the game in a 4-2-3-1.
In defence, Conor Casey went with his usual partnership of Lalas Abubakar and Tommy Smith ahead of the veteran presence of Tim Howard.
Battle of the midfield lost
With Canadian international Samuel Piette out injured, Garde decided not to play an out-and-out defensive midfielder and left Michael Azira on the bench. Taider and Shome were given the nod alongside one another and it was clear early on that the duo were out of their depth. Both Rapids midfielders, Price and Acosta, had field days and pulled strings with ease.
While Taider and Shome each have something to offer in their own way, they are far too similar as players. When the Algerian international would press the opposition, Shome would not adjust leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the pitch. As neither is a traditional #6, this is to be expected. Price and Acosta, especially, took full advantage and regularly played into Rubio and the imposing Kamara.
Pictured below is Taider attempting to get close to Acosta, abandoning his left-centre midfield position in the process. While Okwonkwo tucks in centrally to offer defensive support, Shome is already out of position by the time the American international plays his pass into Kamara.
After receiving the ball, Kamara linked up nicely with Rubio and was eventually played through on goal following a slick one-two. While Raitala and Diallo could have followed their men better, this big chance initially started due to the gap in midfield between Taider and Shome. In Piette’s absence, one of the Impact midfielders will have to assume the role of destroyer and do the ‘dirty’ work in the middle of the park.
The Colorado Rapids took notice of this immediately and regularly filtered in passes between the lines into Kamara or Rubio. Acosta would finish the game with a 94.5% pass accuracy on 52 out of 55 successful passes, dictating tempo from start to finish. His partner, Price, also had himself a night to remember.
The English midfielder registered 7 key passes on the night, and added three assists to his tally on the season. Unlike Shome and Taider, the duo complimented each other wonderfully and were communicating throughout the entire game. If Price burst forward, Acosta was there to shield the back four, and vice versa. Below you can see the Englishman’s heat-map, illustrating just how freely Price was allowed to wander around the midfield.
With the final stretch around the corner, the Montreal Impact will have to come up with an alternative to Piette. Currently, the midfielder plays an essential role in Garde’s tactics. Without him in the lineup, the Impact have typically struggled, as his absence leaves a massive hole in the middle of the park. Moving forward, Garde will have to deploy Azira at defensive midfield, or the Impact will have to dip into their transfer kitty.
Outside of their midfield issues, the Impact are yet to address their recurring set-piece woes. All too often this season, Garde’s men concede avoidable goals from dead-balls. Against the Colorado Rapids, this was no different. Of the Rapids’ six goals on Saturday, four came from set-piece situations. This is an issue that has plagued the side long before this season and is something they must address immediately.
While the Impact’s defenders lost their men far too easily, Evan Bush’s command of his eighteen-yard box, or lack thereof, is worrying, to say the least. Against Colorado, the American goalkeeper’s questionable decision-making was exposed on more than one occasion. On Colorado’s first goal, Rapids defender Abubakar set a screen on the goalkeeper. Rather than noticing the defender and adjusting his positioning, Bush simply tried to push through, eventually leading to an own goal.
On the Rapids’ fourth goal, by contrast, Bush was left stranded at the near post, as Price’s whipped-in corner found Rubio. Again, the Impact keeper was far from convincing. Regardless of his errors, however, his defenders did him no favours either.
Pictured below is Diallo getting beat at the back post by Kamara. Just a second before this, Diallo had Kamara in his sights and was directly in front of him. All the striker had to do to lose his marker was a simple body feint towards the middle, and explode to the second post. And just like that it was 1-1.
With crucial games coming up against the Chicago Fire and Dallas FC, the Impact will have to sort this out and stop conceding cheap goals. Otherwise, they will find themselves out of the playoff positions before the month’s end.
While this loss doesn’t condemn the Impact to the dreaded eighth place, they are certainly approaching dangerous territory. Playing against the last-place team in the Western Conference was a good opportunity to assert themselves, yet the Impact did everything but that.
This analysis has demonstrated that Garde’s men arguably need reinforcements in the middle of the park and could use a crash course on set-piece defending. After all, it will likely make the difference at the end of the season.
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