Analysis

Piatti making good on promise to pile up goals from wide role

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Ignacio Piatti is scoring more despite shifting out to the wing. Franco Panizo explains how it's all clicking in Montreal...

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HARRISON, N.J. – Ignacio Piatti set a lofty goal for himself prior to the start of the season: Score more MLS goals than he ever has before, despite knowing he would spend much of the season out wide on the left rather than in the middle.

Piatti crossed that objective off his to-do list in early July, and only added to his impressive haul this past weekend to continue a career year that has the Montreal Impact poised for a return trip to the playoffs.

When he’s on, he’s one of the best players in the league."

- Impact head coach Mauro Biello

Montreal is currently sitting in a good spot in the Eastern Conference, as only five points separate the Impact from the table-topping position that New York City FC is currently in. Montreal might only be in fifth place in the east, but the Canadian club has two games in hand on NYCFC and is in contention to take the No. 1 seed with little more than two months remaining in the season.

A big reason for the Impact’s success so far in 2016 has been the stout play of Piatti. Used primarily on the left flank as opposed to the central role that he started his Montreal tenure in, the 31-year-old Argentine has been one of, if not the best player for the team this year. He has scored a career-best 13 goals and dished out five assists, providing the Impact with the type of production that is amongst the best in the league.

“I think he’s doing a great job for us,” Impact star forward Didier Drogba told FourFourTwo. “You can see that he won us many games and his confidence is high, and we’re here to help him play his best football because when he performs the team performs.”

Indeed, Montreal has benefitted when Piatti has made an impact. In the 11 games that he has either scored or assisted in this year, the club has posted a 6-3-2 record. The veteran also has three game-winning goals in those matches, including an incredible, stoppage-time curler against the Chicago Fire on April 16.

What has allowed Piatti to be more productive than ever before is his level of comfort on the left side of the attack. The tactical wrinkle was introduced last year after Drogba’s summer arrival, and has provided Piatti more opportunities to both take players on 1-v-1 near the penalty area and use his preferred right foot.

It might not be the standard to see players who move to the outside score more than when they were on the inside, but Piatti is doing a fine job of that.

“He floats out there,” Impact head coach Mauro Biello told FourFourTwo. “He likes to feel comfortable cutting inside from the left-hand side because he’s such a good dribbler. But he’s adjusted well, defensively he gets back in good positions, and he’s very good on the break.”

Piatti most recently showed that latter attribute against the New York Red Bulls this past Saturday, as he capped a lightning-fast counterattack with a slotted finish to give the Impact a 1-0 lead in the first half. That goal may not have been enough to beat the Red Bulls, who stormed back for a 3-1 triumph, but it moved Piatti to within two tallies of current MLS Golden Boot leader Sebastian Giovinco.

The nose for goal and strong run of form that Piatti has demonstrated this year has been vital for Montreal. Opposing defenses have attempted to hone in on Drogba more in an effort to negate the Ivorian after his stellar debut season in 2015, but Piatti’s presence and ability to both find the back of the net and play the killer final pass makes that difficult to do.

“When he’s on, he’s one of the best players in the league,” said Biello of Piatti. “He attracts so much attention and he opens up stuff for Didier, for other players. With Nacho, it’s a guy that’s having a good year and hopefully that can continue for us.”

Piatti, who earned his first MLS All-Star nod last month, is counting on that. He is pleased with his output but is far from content, craving to score more goals to help the Impact finish as one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference before making a run at MLS Cup.

The designated player is also dreaming of bigger things from an individual standpoint, including potentially earning a call-up to Argentina.

“When I got here [in 2014], the doctor on the medical staff of [former coach] Tata Martino asked me how I was doing because I had had a surgery,” said Piatti. “That made me happy because that means they were taking notice of me. Now [Edgardo] Bauza, who I know, is the coach. If I keep doing things well here why can’t I be called up at some point?”

As deep and talented as Argentina is, Piatti will surely give himself a chance to accomplish that feat if he maintains his current level of play. He has been one of the most productive players in MLS this season, and there are no signs of him slowing down.

Even if he does, Piatti just wants to help the Impact become the club that claims MLS’s ultimate prize in December. After all, that would be the best way to punctuate what has already been a career year for him.

“I’m really happy. I wanted to score goals,” Piatti told FourFourTwo. “Luckily, I’ve accomplished that, but the most important thing is to win MLS Cup. We’re on a good path.”

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