With the Montreal Impact firing Rémi Garde before their clash with fierce rivals Toronto FC, they were looking for an immediate reaction. Nothing of the sort would take place, however, as the Impact put in a flaccid display and fell to Greg Vanney’s men by a score of 2-1. The Impact now find themselves out of a playoff spot three points back of TFC, having played one more game.
This tactical analysis will highlight where Toronto FC got the better of the Montreal Impact and examine why Wilmer Cabrera’s tactics were ineffective.
Newly-appointed Impact boss Cabrera fielded a similar lineup to his predecessor and stuck with a conventional 4-4-2. Given the Impact’s injury crisis at the back, Bacary Sagna was fielded alongside Jukka Raitala in the center. The duo was flanked by Zachary Brault-Guillard and Daniel Lovitz.
Ahead of them, Ken Krolicki and Saphir Taider maintained their place in the eleven with Ballou Tabla replacing the injured Orji Okwonkwo on the wing. In attack, new signing Bojan Krkic made his debut alongside Maximiliano Urruti.
Vanney, by contrast, took a gamble and benched Alejandro Pozuelo in favor of Nicolas Benezet and Erickson Gallardo. Nick DeLeon and Marco Delgado flanked Michael Bradley in the midfield.
In defence, Omar Gonzalez and Chris Mavinga got the start in front of goalkeeper Quentin Westberg. Justin Morrow and Auro rounded up Toronto FC’s defensive ranks.
Vanney goes for pace and width
Vanney approached this clash boldly and dropped TFC’s standout player Pozuelo. His decision to drop his best player was met with its fair share of critics, however, in the end, the TFC tactician got the last laugh.
Rather than having Pozuelo operate between the lines, Vanney wanted his side to stretch the Impact’s makeshift back-four with wingers. While Toronto FC’s 4-3-3 in this clash wasn’t very different positionally from their typical 4-2-3-1, it was the first time in a while he fielded two natural wingers.
Pegging the Impact fullbacks deep into their half, Toronto FC dominated the first half as the visitors struggled to string two passes together. With Bradley pulling the strings, Benezet and Gallardo regularly made runs behind the Impact’s fullbacks.
With Cabrera’s men on the backfoot, Toronto FC pressed high up the pitch and forced the Impact to play long into Urruti. As a result, the visitors barely threatened other than a few dangerous moments from Lassi Lappalainen’s brilliance.
When the Impact’s back-line would receive possession, Toronto FC would not hesitate to press up the pitch and use a mid-block to constrain their options. Pictured below is TFC overloading the Impact’s left-hand side forcing them to go long. This would quickly become a trend in the first half and continued into the second.
DeLeon over Pozuelo pays off
The main beneficiary of this formation switch was DeLeon. Operating in right-centre midfield, the American was finding plenty of space between the Impact’s lines and was a constant nuisance. Whether he was receiving passes from Bradley or TFC’s defenders, DeLeon was a regular outlet for his teammates.
Pictured below is the 29-year-old’s heat map of his first half, illustrating his industrious nature. In his forty-five minutes of action, DeLeon fired three shots, registered one key pass and most importantly, acted as the link between Bradley and TFC’s attack. Moving forward, the midfielder could establish himself as a crucial piece to Vanney’s tactics.
Due to DeLeon’s positioning in the half-spaces between Taider and Lappalainen, the Impact struggled to pick him up and frankly, couldn’t handle his movement. Below you can see the midfielder occupying a position he regularly found himself in the first half. While it’s hard to accommodate Pozuelo and DeLeon in the same eleven given their tendency to move into the same spaces, Vanney will welcome this selection headache.
The 29-year-old could play on the wing, as he has done on countless occasions in MLS action this season, but he is way more effective as a hybrid between a number eight and ten.
Pozuelo enters for DeLeon
Vanney wasted no time introducing his star man and brought on Pozuelo for DeLeon as soon as the second half kicked off. Despite the American’s positive first half, it was time for the Spaniard to assume the reigns of the attack. With Pozuelo on the pitch, Toronto FC transitioned into an unbalanced 4-2-3-1 of sorts with both their fullbacks pushing high up the pitch.
As the Impact struggled to get out of their half, Toronto FC sensed their vulnerability and pushed up the pitch. In possession, fullbacks Auro and Morrow were on the same line as midfielder Delgado while Bradley dropped between TFC’s centrebacks. In attack, Pozuelo roamed freely as Benezet and Gallardo stretched the Impact’s rearguard. With Altidore attracting Raitala’s and Sagna’s attention, Pozuelo went to work. Below you can see how Vanney’s 4-2-3-1 unfolded in possession.
With TFC going forward with purpose, the Impact struggled immensely and rarely were able to overcome their press. While Bojan would break the deadlock with his long-range belter, the Impact was never in this game. Rather than sustaining possession and building play through clear patterns, the Impact found the back of the net through a moment of brilliance. A one-off moment in an overall mediocre game.
The goal, however, changed little in the grand scheme of things and TFC found themselves on the front-foot again shortly thereafter. With practically all ten of their players in the Impact half, it was only a matter of time before they equalized.
Once again, TFC’s right-hand side would hurt the Impact as Pozuelo found himself in an abundance of space. With plenty of time to pick out a pass, the former Swansea man whipped in a dangerous cross. As it has been the case in recent weeks, Evan Bush struggled to deal with it and punched it into Delgado’s path.
The American would make no mistake and smashed it home through Krolicki and Sagna’s legs. Like that, TFC was level and deservedly so.
Vanney alters setup once more
With the Impact looking vulnerable, Vanney introduced Jonathan Osorio into the fold. Rather than occupying Brault-Guillard, Osorio was used to overload the middle of the pitch, freeing the left-wing for fullback Morrow. With the Canadian international playing close to Pozuelo and Delgado, TFC achieved numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch and had the Impact scrambling.
Pictured below, you can see the type of positions Osorio was typically occupying. Morrow (#2) is just entering the shot on the left.
With Osorio staying in the left half-space, Morrow was given the license to get forward and did so with aplomb. The 31-year-old was rewarded for his bravery as the ball fell to him inside the box. Morrow tested his luck and beat Bush at his near post. While Bush should not have been beaten by the American’s weak effort, it was TFC’s aggressive set-up that lead to this moment. And like that, TFC leapfrogged the Impact in the standings and picked up a big three points.
With the Impact offering little to nothing in the game, newly-appointed manager Wilmer Cabrera will be left scratching his head. To be fair to him, however, he only directed two training sessions before this clash, therefore, it’s no surprise the Impact are still playing like Garde’s team.
For Toronto FC, on the other hand, this was an encouraging performance. Vanney’s subtle tactical shifts got the best out of key men at crucial times and utilized his squad’s deep bench to a tee. Now, TFC controls their own destiny going into the final stages of the season.
This analysis highlighted Toronto FC’s aggressive set-up and how it completely nullified the Impact’s attacking play. As Toronto soar up the standings, their fierce rivals must go back to the drawing board or risk missing the playoffs two seasons in a row.