So the second leg is approaching, and seeing as how we did the usual How you doin'? questions thing just a week ago, we changed things up a bit this week to go with a more conversational chat kind of thing. So, here's me, once again with Sofiane Benzaza of Mount Royal Soccer looking back at the first leg and ahead to the second. They actually have a poll up on the front page about who's going to win, so you know, click on the above link and go vote, it might just be the only thing TFC win all year. Anyway, Montreal, how you doin'?
Duncan: Bonjour Sofiane. We'll get to this week's game in a moment, but first let's look back at the first leg. I don't have much feistiness in me right now, but I'll get my bravado out there early...how bad are Montreal that they couldn't even score against TFC?
Sofiane: Scoring was always an issue for Montreal. Before even signing an old Bernado Corradi out of nowhere, Justin Braun and Sanna Nyassi were pretty much the offensive options up front. The positive spin on this is that half-chance are becoming chances since the 2-0 thrashing at Vancouver but the finishing is still lacking for a professional team.
Duncan: Presumably you're looking forward to Di Vaio coming along?
Sofiane: Marco Di Vaio or at least the profile and potential he represents would probably be that spark needed for the trail of powder this team has been spreading. The finishing sector needs a boost and that was identified a few minutes after the Expansion Draft and that still included that Brian Ching was supposedly staying
Duncan: To be fair, they probably weren't expecting to be having to be facing such an uber-defensive approach as TFC put out there.
Sofiane: Not that uber, that is true. But chances were created and Kocic did his job perfectly. When you think about it, it kind makes sense that TFC wanted to shut it down and keep it simple.
Talking of defending, without wanting to go through 6-7 years of MLS, but more like the last one, why does it seem so hard for TFC to field an organised team early in the season? It seemed like that desperation of not wanting to be in the history books made the team to be more organised but still...
Duncan: Well that's always been a problem. Geovanny Caicedo and Miguel Aceval were supposed to be the answer at Centre Back, neither of them are, and so we're back to square 1. TFC have just never had a really good centre back. Under Preki they were organised enough to defend well, under everyone else it's been a bit of a shitshow, and it's really not changing this year. I don't feel like we defended well in Montreal, at least in the first half as you had plenty of chances. We did get a good half of defence against DC on the weekend, but we have to sacrifice the offence to get that, which is driving Ryan Johnson nuts.
Ferrari seems to have settled in nicely for you guys though, and it seem like you've got that side of things sorted out.
Sofiane: Matteo Ferrari is superbly a pleasant surprise as he was one of those late signings and Shavar Thomas has done the job to complement him. The good news for Montreal's defense is the return of Hassoun Camara and Nelson Rivas and both played very well against Sporting KC.
Duncan: Yeah, you guys beat the sporks! Where did that come from?
Sofiane: Jesse Marsch must have realized that he couldn't take the game to SKC at KC and just decided to concede ball possession, even though SKC would have taken it anyways, and went for strong solid defense. The credit to Marsch and the players is the ability of the squad to still be able to play one-touch football when they can and get the ball out quickly.
I am curious on TFC's offensive potential as I find that potential to be very promising. I am still confused on Ryan Johnson's role, LW or CF? Speedy Winger or central Pivot? Danny Koevermans has a good physical presence and is much faster than he looks. Are they missing some playmaking skills to feed them the ball? that famous last pass?
Duncan: There's all sorts of things missing right now. Injuries haven't helped, as Koevermans just hasn't got going at all. Johnson would work better on the wing, but has had to play centre forward with Koevermans out. Joao Plata hasn't got close to playing like he did last year which doesn't help, and bad luck is legitimately a small part of it as well. Tactics haven't helped as we've very rarely had a stable lineup or formation, and that's caused problems at both ends of the pitch. The last couple of games we've tried focusing on defence, with varying degrees of success, and that has killed off the attack even more. It's a mess right now in so many ways. The players seem very confused and beaten down, Aron Winter looks like he hasn't got a clue, it's all very depressing.
Sofiane: I understand that depression of fans, media covering the team and all other parties involved but at this point, there is no more lessons to be learned in defeat? no evolution even when losing?
Duncan: There doesn't seem to be no, I guess going back to parking the bus can be seen as an evolution, in a back to basics kind of way. Hopefully we can get a solid base, then slowly start making it a bit more attacking. But that's a depressing thing to have to write, we did that last year, we should have moved on, alas no. It all comes back to the lack of good defence due to no good centre backs. Having someone like Jamison Olave would be a huge help. Montreal seems to have learnt from their early season troubles, do you see their recent form as a permanent thing? Can they be competitive throughout the season? Make the playoffs?
Sofiane: Even during the losing streak, many fans were saying the same thing: "if the team continues to play this way, by July, we will still be in the playoffs race". Being competitive is something that Jesse Marsch made sure to have from players he took in and those that did not have it or did not feel like it anymore are not in the team anymore. Being competitive and being victorious to make the playoffs are 2 different things as TFC has shown in its last couple of MLS games. Will this be permanent? Yes the competitive level , internal competition and eagerness to fight will be there but the challenge will come from the mental challenges when the "better teams" of the league will get into 2nd gear when it starts to count more. Summer will tell the story pretty quickly.
Funny thing about the Amway CC is that I feel that it's so early in the season that its context / canvas seems to be lost /empty in what is in play? Do you feel the same?
Duncan: I get where you're coming from, as the best Canadian team won't be decided until long after the Voyageurs Cup is held aloft, the old way of deciding it was probably a much more legitimate way to decide a Canadian champion. Having said that, there's certainly plenty of context this year for TFC. This IS the season now. We're one game away from the season being completely pointless.
Is there a sense in Montreal that they can really put the knife in to their rivals, and an eagerness to do that?
Sofiane: I dont think there is a city rivalry animosity among the players...yet.. but the Conscientiousness that eliminating TFC from the CC will probably wreak havoc to the organisation is a known factor. Still, the team and players is not under-estimated by the Montreal Impact. On the other hand, many fans (and the other way would be also expected) just want to kill off TFC as the NASL vs MLS days feelings are still there + the classical TO vs Mtl rivalry that trickled down from hockey.
Duncan: Yeah, I'd take quite a lot of joy if it was the other way round, in fact going back to last year when we killed off any reason for Vancouver's season I did.
Sofiane: That feeling makes sense :-)
Duncan: I guess that leads to the question, do you think the Impact will win on Wednesday? You have of course never beaten TFC in Voyageurs Cup play.
Sofiane: The soccer seen on the pitch points to a Montreal Impact and any goal that Montreal scores counts for double if it ends in a tie, so the advantage is on Montreal's side but I don't see TFC not scoring a goal in the game. I see the game going to PK and put my money on Montreal as the team has been perfect in PK so far. How do you see the result of the game?
Duncan: penalties? Bloody hell. That wouldn't be good at all, TFC are terrible at penalties, even Torsten Frings misses penalties in TFC red.
Sofiane: Kocic might be a savior though but yes, PKs need to go in in the same time.
Duncan: I really don't know, there are so many ways it could go. I think Winter will be desperate for the win and he doesn't really have the patience to stick with a plan it seems, so I don't think we'll park the bus again. I think we will actually manage to score, but the defence just won't hold up so the Impact will get goals as well. The head says a tie that gets Montreal through on away goals, the heart clings desperately to the fact that we've played well in cup games under Winter, so maybe we'll get a 2-1 win. I'll go with the head, TFC will get knocked out.
Sofiane: I cannot ignore a long CONCACAF CL run that gives TFC an edge but the surrounding environment of losing does not help. But we might both see another tight game that will be more open than the last one, more physical I think with a crazy last 30 minutes.
Duncan: I think it will be up for grabs right up to 90 minutes definitely. I just think TFC's confidence is too fragile right now, no way we'd be able to hold on to a lead for long. Do you see the Impact trying to keep it tight, or trying to go after TFC early? Will they be playing the first team?
Sofiane: The first team will be playing, basically the same lineup in the 1st leg. The Impact will press the TFC midfield as they understand the quality of a Torsten Frings that I expect to be much more implicated in generating offense. They will want to keep it tight in the midfield to control the flow of the game and look for lack of defensive awareness on the sides. How do you see TFC playing the game with their starting lineup?
Duncan: Well you mention Frings, and it will probably depend on if he's fit or not, and I doubt he will be. Without him, I think we'll see a flat back 4, 2 very defensive midfielders in front of them in Dunfield and de Guzman, but unlike last week, we'll actually start a proper creative attacking midfielder, and we'll be more attacking than the first leg. With a bit of luck it might work, and I think if we do get the lead, you'll see some pretty desperate turtling to protect it, maybe leading Ryan Johnson's head to explode with frustration.
Sofiane: "He Who Controls The Midfield, Controls the Universe" if Dune was adapted into a soccer game, what do you think?
Duncan: It makes sense. and TFC play way too much down the wings and rarely control the midfield, thus the 0-8, we may be proving that point very nicely.
Sofiane: I still find it hard that someone like Aron Winter with his experience as a player is unable and unwilling to adapt to these flaws. Desperately Stubborn or Cynically Realist?
Duncan: He's definitely stubborn, he's fiddled between 4 and 5 at the back, but that front 3 has never changed, and we've never seemed to have the hard working wingers necessary to help the midfield out. I think it'll be his downfall, could see him fired from the head coach position if we lose this one.
Sofiane: It's very disappointing to see a coach's tenure be so short in a game that needs development but does not accept constant failure. I still want to blame everything on MLSE but that's not my problem I suppose. As much as a Montrealer, I am supposed to hate all that comes from Toronto, but objectively TFC's project from its MLS beginning did not seem to make sense.
Duncan: Yeah, it's never really got going at all sadly. Oh well, if you guys win on Wednesday, then best of luck to you in the final, keep Vancouver's name off the cup.
Sofiane: The Amway CC is an important Canadian soccer tradition that has built rivalries in the past and will continue to create them, and also re-created them. If you win on Wednesday, kudos to a squad that would have been able to get back on track and hopefully, that momentum comes back in MLS. But if we see similar defensive blunders, I cannot see how Montreal does not make it to the final and that's another animal.