Montreal’s Impact Players Get the Job Done
Two critical goals from Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti in the second half wiped out Kennedy Igboananike’s first-half strike and visiting Montreal came away 2:1 winners at Toyota Park on Saturday. The Fire’s attack spent most of the afternoon sputtering, as the team’s main offensive threats were starved of any service. For a team that seeks to control the tempo of a match by controlling the ball, the Fire continue to fall far short of that standard.
Goalkeeper Matt Lampson was nowhere near his best. He had several shaky moments managing his 18-yard box and his clunker of a clearance in the second half helped Montreal find the equalizer.
The Fire’s four-game unbeaten run skidded to a halt. The streak was based on stellar defensive work, during which the Fire conceded just one goal. The Fire recorded three shutouts in that time, two of them 0:0 draws. They extended the goalless string to 411 minutes, setting a club record.
The Fire’s attack, however, has been largely impotent since their four-goal outburst in the opening match. Since then, the Fire have scored just three times. Although the absence of their most dangerous attacker, David Accam, has been crucial to the lack of scoring chances, the reality is that the Fire have been unable to consistently move the ball through their midfield. As a result, most of the attacking opportunities have been funneled through Igboananike and Gilberto. The Fire need more options and other players have not stepped in to fill those roles.
Coach Veljko Paunovic tweaked his first 11 from the lineup he used in the last two matches. Holding midfielder Matt Polster made way for John Goosens, who played the central midfield spot behind striker Gilberto. Razvan Cocis dropped back to join Michael Stephens as the holding midfield pair in what has become Paunovic’s standard 4-2-3-1 system.
Maintaining possession eluded the Fire almost completely. They spent much of the first half on the back foot, allowing the Impact to move the ball around with ease . And Montreal were quite adept at playing in a simple fashion. Donny Toia, Eric Alexander and Kyle Bekker were key players in finding open space and getting the ball to open players.
Montreal were not far from opening their account in the 11th minute. Bekker launched a free kick from the left wing and found Hassoun Camara floating in at the far post. Lampson chose not to challenge for the ball and backed up. Camara headed down and Lampson misjudged the flight of the ball. Jonathan Campbell rescued the situation by clearing the ball off the line.
In the 29th minute, the Fire awakened from their offensive slumber long enough to grab the lead. Arturo. Alvarez sent a long pass out of the back for Gilberto in the center circle. Gilberto turned immediately and accelerated into space, forcing four Montreal players to turn and chase. He laid off a well-timed pass for Igboananike on the left. Igboananike had time and space in the upper left corner of the penalty area and beat goalkeeper Evan Bush with a rising shot into the top corner of the goal. Despite what had been a toothless attacking display to that point, the Fire had that valuable 1:0 lead and could reasonably count on their defense to do the rest of the job.
Matt Polster entered the match at halftime, replacing Alvarez. He took his usual spot next to Stephens, which pushed Cocis up one spot. Goosens occupied the right wing in the second half.
Montreal countered with their own substitution five minutes later, as Drogba replaced Johan Venegas. The ivorian made his presence felt a mere six minutes later, presiding over an equalizer that was a comedy of errors. It started innocently enough when Polster, knocked a pass back for Lampson in order to avoid a clump of Impact players at midfield. Drogba gave chase to pressure Lampson, who tried to clear to Michael Harrington on the left side. Lampson miskicked the ball very badly and Dominic Oduro rushed in to intercept. The botched clearance left the Fire’s players in the back poorly positioned to react. Harrington raced back to defend Oduro, while Campbell was in the middle of the box, halfway between Oduro and Drogba. Oduro slid a pass inside to Drogba, who hit a nasty back-heel past a sprawling Lampson to bag the equalizer.
In the 76th minute, huge work by Polster to keep possession at midfield ignited a Fire attack. He beat four Montreal players and he carried to the byline. Polster sent an excellent diagonal ball back for Alex Morrell (who had replaced Goosens in the 58th minute), who hit it first-time from the penalty spot, only to see Bush go full stretch to push the ball around the post.
Montreal’s winner came in the first minute of stoppage time and seemed to materialize out of nowhere. They brought the ball up methodically, with Oduro lofting a pass out to Piatti on the left flank. Rodrigo Ramos came over to engage him, but did not expect a shot from the top corner of the penalty area. Piatti did not hesitate to launch it and placed it in a spot that Lampson could not possibly reach. Game over, no points again for the Fire in a home match.
It would be a gross oversimplification to look at Lampson’s bad clearance and say that the Fire lost the game because of one play. The Fire lost the game because of a lack of attacking capability. Against New York, the Fire generated zero shots on goal. Against Montreal, only Igboananike’s goal and Morrell’s late shot found the target. This simply is not enough.The lack of productivity at the offensive end places a tremendous burden on the defense to pitch a shutout every week. This Fire team is not Italy’s World Cup team of 1982. Until the Fire can find new ways to score goals, they will be spending a lot of time chasing the game.