It seemed unlikely that New York Red Bulls, unbeaten in six August matches, would crumble against Montreal Impact. But MLS can bring surprises, and on September 1 the Impact tore through the Red Bulls to the tune of a 3-0 scoreline. Against New York’s relentless pressure, Montreal focused on keeping a deep defensive shape, winning second balls, and capitalizing on set pieces. The plan worked, and at halftime two goals off of dead balls put the Impact in position to play a safe, defensive second half. The win puts Remi Garde’s team four points behind the Union going into this Saturday’s big match at Talen Energy Stadium.
Sit deep and counter, with a twist
Last time these teams faced off, the Impact were just trying to stop leaking goals. Garde has had time to implement a more advanced trapping system on the wings in midfield, and now teams need to be smart about how they move the ball to establish possession in Montreal’s final third. In other words, when the ball goes wide, the Impact have become quite adept at closing it down quickly and in numbers, and they switch play out of those traps to spring quick counterattacks.
But that pressing was, of course, supported by the deep block that Garde put into place when he became manager in the offseason. The Impact don’t have much speed in back, so they try to cover for it by keeping two tight lines and carefully monitoring passing lanes into the center. This vertical compactness allows them to stretch horizontally out to the wings to try and press crossers, and this is important since they are quite poor at defending their box from aerial attacks.
Winning second balls, switching fields early
The Impact’s ability to create danger from counterattacks relied heavily on success of their plan to force New York to play long and then challenge for second balls. Red Bulls have been exceptional at closing in on second balls this season, but Montreal often forced them to keep the ball on the same side of the pitch when they went long. This meant the Impact could gather around a loose ball and try to quickly gain control and switch play laterally as New York was converging on one side of the pitch. Alejandro Silva, Nacho Piatti, and Saphir Taider were then instrumental in advancing the ball into the Red Bulls’ half to relieve pressure and either create chances or earn fouls.
Expect something similar from Remi Garde’s men on Saturday when they arrive in Talen Energy Stadium. There will be a deep block and well=planned traps in wide areas. The Union would normally try to overload these traps on the right, but if Borek Dockal can’t go they may employ an alternative tactic that plays more to Derrick Jones’ strengths. Regardless, this will be a huge match for both teams so you can expect intensity from the 7:30PM EST whistle until the final moments of the match.