Qui sont-ils? Aperçu du Match Contre Montreal
A cut below the rest. This past weekend the Chicago Fire lost at home against Atlanta United. The 2-1 score line was fair on the night and reiterated what many observers had already noted, this Fire side is not very good, but they aren’t that bad, they’re just ok. Scraping by against Columbus, a hard-fought draw against Portland, a last gasp point against Toronto, and a shock win against the Red Bulls have earned Chicago eight points and eighth place in the East after eight matches.
They are far below any acceptable bench mark for a team that was in contention for the Supporters Shield last season and being outplayed at home by Atlanta cemented the fact that this current iteration of Nelson Rodriguez’s project cannot compete with the elite teams of the league. They’ll have a chance to keep their hat in the ring this Wednesday against Montreal (7:30 CT at Toyota Park) but all indications are they will continue gasping for breath just below the playoff line, itself a symbol of mediocrity in a league where half of the teams make the post season.
On the opposite side of the field, the Impact enter the fixture amidst a rocky start to Remi Garde’s tenure at the helm. There have been flashes of brilliance from some of their offseason additions, but there have been equally as many head scratching moments for the Quebecois outfit. Are these just growing pains or did Joey Saputo get his offseason transition drastically wrong? It seems as if this fixture will have added spice as massive questions remain for both sides. Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Montreal Preseason Form Guide: W-L-L-L-L
Previous Result: A 4-2 home win over New England.
Formation: 4-3-3; Bush; Duvall, Cabrera, Raitala, Lovitz; Silva, Piette, Taider; Edwards, Jackson-Hamel, Piatti
Forces: While Montreal may have had a bumpy April, they have a 100% record in May and they are hoping they have turned the corner for good. Remi Garde is one of the most qualified managers in MLS and if he continues to adjust to the league, the sky is the limit for the Impact. Let’s see where they might succeed on Wednesday.
Engagement Récompensé: After breathing a heavy sigh of relief in the wake of his sides victory over New England at the weekend, Garde was asked what he thought of the match. Without hesitating he said that he felt his side was finally rewarded for their commitment to the game plan and to each other on the pitch. He lamented bad luck, referee decisions, and an early lack of cohesion for poor results in the first few months but said he feels the points were much deserved and a sign of things to come. Garde’s emotional response was mirrored in the statistics of the match. The Impact managed six shots on target (double the average of shots on target in their previous matches), completed one hundred passes in the final third (more than in any match last month), and defended more effectively then they have most of the season (completing over one hundred successful defensive interventions in the match). If the result was more than a fluke, Chicago might be in trouble in this one.
Derrière la Defense: While Garde waits to truly mold this team over the coming seasons, he has found some success in utilizing pieces chosen for him by the rest of the technical staff. Perhaps their best match of the season, their previous result against New England showcased a simple approach to the opposition. Long balls over the top or through balls in behind the defense from Taider and Silva were the strategy of choice as Piette was left to solidify the back third in front of the center backs and the outside backs were more conservative than they have been in matches prior. From the first kick of the match, the indication was that they were going to go route one and it worked. Each of the front three notched at least one goal (Jackson-Hammel had a brace) and they all came in similar fashion. Such an approach could pay dividends again if Chicago has as much trouble with their offside trap as they did against Atlanta.
J'aime mes Nachos Agés: You knew it was coming. Here is our mandatory discussion of Ignacio Piatti. Since arriving to Montreal in 2014, the Argentine has scored fifty-seven goals and notched thirty assists for Les Bleu-blanc-noir. Not a traditional Enganche per se (though he has played that role when asked to), Piatti has nonetheless been considered one of the top South American additions to the league in its history. After contract talks that went according to an Argentine styled script (complaints about missing family, needing to feel important, weighing options in Europe), Nick De Santis, Joey Saputo, and Adam Braz ponied up and extended his stay. A deal rumored to be worth five million dollars a year, the extension will keep Piatti in Montreal until at least 2020, with a club option for 2021. Garde has allowed Piatti to roam as he pleases on the pitch, but the Impact's number ten has functioned best drifting inside from the left wing. Kevin Ellis will be facing his sternest test yet and will need all the help he can get from the midfield trio in front of him.
Faiblesses: Despite the aforementioned strengths, Montreal sits five points outside of the playoffs and there has been plenty to critique about their approach to matches, their follow through on tactics, and a lack of identity in the beginning of the campaign. Let’s see where they might struggle on Wednesday.
Trop de Changements Tactiques: Perhaps one of the biggest weaknesses of this Impact side is that Remi Garde is asking too much from his players tactically. A typical shortcoming of foreign coaches entering MLS (see Viera’s first season with NYFC FC, Carl Robinson’s early days with Vancouver, Paunovic’s maiden voyage, etc.) is an over estimation of the soccer IQ of many MLS players. Although Tata Martino and Wilmer Cabrera were given the ability to immediately shape their squads through the utilization of foreign signings and therefore succeeded, Garde and most of the foreign coaches to ply their trade here have had to adjust to the fact that you are tactically limited in this league.
Over the course of Montreal’s first nine matches, Garde has utilized six different formations (4-1-4-1; 5-3-2; 3-1-4-2; 4-5-1; 4-4-2; and a 4-3-3), asked them to do everything from a deep laying defensive line, to a high line/offside trap, a high press to a low block, and springing counter attacks to focusing on build-up play. While such tactical astuteness was plentiful amongst Kim Kallstrom, Clement Grenier, Maxime Gonalons, Yoann Gourcuff, Bafetimbi Gomis and the rest of the Garde’s 2012 Olympique Lyon team that won both the Coupe de France and the Trophee des Champions, the likes of Raheem Edwards, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, and Daniel Lovitz hardly compare.
The Impact may still be trying to formulate an identity but it is clear that some of the players have been absolutely lost amidst the barrage of instructions from the Frenchman and mid-match tactical shifts. Perhaps the best example of this was two weeks ago at Atlanta. Montreal came out with a high press and looked like they had ingested rocket fuel prior to kick off. The pressure led directly to Chris Duvall streaming up the sideline to provide an inch perfect cross to Saphir Taider for a 1-0 lead over one of the league’s best sides.
The high press continued well into the second half before Garde visibly shifted Taider deeper into midfield and tried to bunker down after the 60th minute. The change also saw Lovitz and Duvall asked to pinch in rather than acting as the wingbacks that they were against LAFC the week prior. Ultimately, the Impact gave up four goals in the final twenty-five minutes. If Chicago continues to shift Schweinsteiger around the pitch as they have been in recent weeks, it might tempt Garde to get fancy with the tactics and possibly fancy beyond the ability of his players.
Buts Autorisés: While the above paragraph may have explored a particularity, that aspect of Montreal’s season has led to a more universal factor: goals conceded. As a defensive minded midfielder (at times playing the “libero” role Schweinsteiger has transitioned to of late), Garde must be livid at conceding twenty-three goals in just nine matches. At this rate, the Impact will concede 87 goals by the season’s end, thus surpassing Minnesota’s record breaking 70 goals conceded in last year’s campaign. The ways in which they’ve conceded have been as plenteous as their tactical shift and Nemanja Nikolic could run riot in this encounter. The Impact may complain about calls going against them, VAR not functioning properly, and bad luck, but none of that will matter much to the Serbo-Hungarian maestro if he can get service.
Nous ne Voulons pas la Balle: While possession statistics do not always directly correlate to results, there is somewhat of a correlation between having the ball and creating chances. It should not be surprising that Montreal’s fourteen goals (among the bottom third of the league) are coupled by them conceding the lion’s share of possession throughout the season. Montreal has only out-possessed their opponents on one occasion during the campaign (against Seattle) and Chicago has tended to do well in encounters where they have more of the ball (three of their four results have come with possession being even or Chicago edging ahead in that category). If these statistics continue, there is a good chance that the Fire will earn at least another point on Wednesday.
Prediction: Results have been fairly unpredictable in recent weeks, and this mixed bag of a match is no different. One thing is for sure, this is a must win match for the Fire before they hit the road for three of their next four games. However, they have been less than impressive at home throughout the campaign, so this is a toss-up. Let’s call it a draw. Chicago 2-2 Montreal. Nikolic and Gordon for the hosts, a Piatti brace for the visitors.