Montreal left reeling after another home loss
As yet another team celebrated a win on the field at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night, one has to wonder: What exactly has gone wrong in Montreal?
The Impact had been one of the toughest teams in the league to beat on its home field. Mauro Biello went undefeated there in 2015 after taking over for Frank Klopas. This season, Toronto FC handed the Impact a loss at home in April. It was the only home defeat in Montreal over the first four and half months of the season.
It has been a different story over the last nine games.
Montreal, which lost four games in its first 18 games, has lost four games since July 17. That includes three multi-goal losses at home: 3-1 to NYCFC on July 17; 3-0 on Aug. 20 to Chicago; 4-1 on Wednesday night to Orlando City.
The dip in form is surprising because the Impact came into this season looking like a legitimate MLS Cup contender, and nothing over the first half of the season indicated they were anything but that.
Sometimes, however, the temptation to change can be a bad thing.
Through the first half of the season Montreal had, with a few exceptions, played a 4-5-1 lineup that centered around Didier Drogba as a target striker and Ignacio Piatti given the freedom to float, find the ball and create.
That philosophy started to change on July 17. The Impact came out with a 4-4-2 lineup against NYCFC, necessitated in part due to injury and player availability. It was a 3-1 loss. The 4-5-1 was back for the next two games – a 5-1 win over Philly and a 1-1 draw with D.C. United – but the tinkering continued.
Montreal signed Hernan Bernardello on July 24 and immediately inserted him in the starting lineup next to Marco Donadel. The central midfield pairing struggled to provide the same balance as it had previously, including with Eric Alexander, who was traded to Houston on July 22 to make room for Bernardello.
Against NYCFC, the newly-signed Matteo Mancosu also made his debut as a substitute. By August 6, Mancosu was in the starting lineup. Montreal shifted to a 4-4-2 to accommodate both Mancosu and Drogba. The changes and a lineup that now included Bernardello, Donadel, Drogba and Mancosu was met with two poor results: a 3-1 loss at the New York Red Bulls and the 3-0 loss to Chicago.
Montreal has been trying to recover since, experimenting with different lineups in midfield and on the back line. The back line against Orlando City was the fourth combination in the last five games. It was also the fourth different midfield combination in the last four games.
Lots of change breeds uncertainty on the field, uncertainty leads to a lack of organization, and that can roll into losses and an overall shortage of confidence.
Montreal paid good money for solid, European-experienced players. But the addition of those players and the midseason attempts to fit all the pieces together may have cost Montreal the understanding it had early in the year. It’s never easy to integrate internationals in the summer. MLS has seen players try and fail multiple times. It may be the right move long-term, but it also comes with short-term consequences.
After Week 18 in the MLS season, Montreal sat in third place in the East. Following Wednesday’s loss, it dropped to fifth, just three points ahead of sixth-place Orlando City. As it enters the final stretch of the season, the Impact is toiling.
Montreal will have to find a way to make all the pieces – new and old – fit together if it wants to contend in the East.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.