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Tactical Analysis: Montreal Impact 1-0 Toronto FC

A let-down display sees TFC go 0–2 after falling at the hands of their bitter rivals at the Big O.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

So, let me get this out of the system — I hate losing against any rival team, most of all the Montreal Impact. Hence, I felt the need to share this tweet because we really feel like that right now, but ONLY because of that game.

After falling in a narrow defeat against the Impact, Toronto FC are now 0–2 in the new MLS campaign after losing the season opener against the Columbus Crew at BMO Field before last weekend’s disappointing narrow loss.

Nonetheless, TFC fans should stay calm and not push the panic button already. Traditionally, MLS teams who go deep into the CONCACAF Champions League struggle to balance their energies between domestic and continental fixtures, especially since it coincides with the first part of the season where the players are still finding the right tune.

This is more than evident in TFC right now. Greg Vanney opted to rest a couple players dealing with injuries: central defender Chris Mavinga, the best player alongside Sebastian Giovinco in the roster in the first matches of 2018, and Victor Vazquez, our midfield maestro.

Moreover, the players’ enthusiasm is all dedicated to the Champions League, given they deem it as a real objective. This theory was more than ever fueled with their heroic display against Liga MX winners Tigres over two legs. Having clinched a historic treble last season, the players would not be that hungry to prove they are the best and emulate the previous success, so eventually that hinders them from performing at their best.

Nonetheless, I am more than sure that after their Champions League experience, TFC’s players will set their mindset on exerting their dominance across the United States and Canada for another year.

In the meantime, with two full weeks of rest, the players can get their ideas together, reflect on this short semester of games and then regain their form ahead of what will be a string of important matches against Real Salt Lake and D.C. United to get back on track in MLS and the two-legged affair with Club America with the Champions League final at stake.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact
No need to worry Toronto FC fans.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Vanney decided not to deploy the usual diamond shape and replaced it with the more conservative 3-5-2 which enabled far more cover in the midfield aided by two wingbacks, Gregory van der Wiel and Ashtone Morgan, who year after year continues to find himself in the roster which is good, given he is loyal to the TFC and he has a good influence on the dressing room.

For yet another game, all the Designated Players found their roles on the field with Michael Bradley anchored in front of the three-man back line and the attacking pair formed by Altidore and the Atomic Ant.

TFC started the game pretty well, pressing high with two lines of pressure in an attempt to force their opponents to err. Jonathan Osorio was the most lively person in the early stages, dictating the play in the final 30 metres, even though TFC never really threatened although a Giovinco shot deflected into a corner by the goalkeeper.

As the first half wore on, concerns started to grow however. The Impact sat at the back, waiting for their chance to catch their opponents on the break, and when they did, they were devastating. Ignacio Piatti’s ability in transition, quickness and awareness, posed an awkward threat to TFC even though he was always outnumbered.

But most of all, TFC were inviting danger to their own half due to individual errors, mostly by the back three.

On the only goal conceded, the aggressive pressure from the Impact earned them possession in the midfield and they immediately sent a searching pass to Piatti — who has scored more than 15% of his MLS goals against according to Opta — whose cutback went to Jeisson Vargas.

Exactly in that moment, Nick Hagglund, who was supposedly taking care of Vargas while also eyeing Piatti’s maneuver, was too far from his opponent and once Vargas received the ball, he put it on his favourite foot and triggered the shot before Hagglund could even close down on him — then, to add insult to injury, the ball deflected off the TFC defender and deceived Alex Bono.

Piatti was creating havoc with his transition, and with Remi Garde opting not to feature a proper number nine, TFC defenders did not have a reference point to mark, and this may have created some problems given that with three at the back, they did not have no one in particular to mark but rather were chasing the shadows of Piatti, Vargas and Saphir Taider who is able to slide between the lines — case in point, his golden opportunity that he squandered in minute 58.

In fact, in the second 45 minutes, TFC transformed itself into a 4-4-2 with the introductions of Marky Delgado at the heart of the midfield and Nicolas Hasler as left midfielder, in an attempt to exploit that flank given that Ashtone Morgan rarely propelled himself upfront.

This shape enabled Giovinco to widen himself and face the defenders in one against one situations, in most of which he either drew a foul or switched the play to the other side for van der Wiel — these sorts of situations are fundamental for TFC because it enables them to have a numerical advantage, given the offensive prowess that the Italian has in his repertoire.

In the meantime, Hasler, who has been called up by Liechtenstein for their international commitments this weekend against Andorra and Faroe Islands, had a positive impact on the team as he immediately tried to surge himself forward, exchanging passes with Giovinco and Altidore, even though they never capitalized. Hasler, however, is making a case for himself and I think he deserves more playing time on the field especially in games where TFC need someone to dissect the defensive line with short and quick passes.

MLS: Columbus Crew at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In the meantime, I would like to add a personal observation. It was clear that Giovinco up front was struggling against Rod Fanni, the 36-year-old large defender who was making his debut for the Impact, and whose experience helped him in his positioning and anticipation.

In that case, I was hoping that Jordan Hamilton might come off the bench. First of all, he is one of TFC’s best options at backup striker, therefore he is next in line to chip in goals, besides Tosaint Ricketts. Also, his deployment instead of putting in Delgado into midfield would have allowed TFC to move into an offensive 4-3-3 with Giovinco leaning back a few metres behind Altidore and Hamilton in order to receive the ball outside the eighteen and have a free role, exploiting half-spaces and trigger crosses. Moreover, Hamilton would have posed another physical presence inside the eighteen and would not have been a mismatch against Fanni.

To conclude, I want to recall an episode from the game which in my opinion was controversial but at the same time was very difficult for the referee, even though his collaborators did a silent-check on their screens to evaluate it — Eriq Zavaleta’s potential trip on Ignacio Piatti in the second half.

At first sight, I thought it was penalty. Afterwards, when TSN was viewing the foul from different angles, I could sometimes see Zavaleta’s leg make contact with Piatti and at the same time, I was tempted to say that the Impact skipper dived.

From this angle, I think it was foul, a penalty, because Zavaleta’s leg, which made contact with his opponent, was just on the line, meaning it was in the box by the rules.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

I would like to hear out what you think about this, however!