MLS Playoffs preview: Montreal Impact — Toronto FC

Posted Oct 29, 2015 by Tyrrell Meertins
Toronto FC endured a calamitous conclusion to a historic season, which witnessed the club clinch their first playoff berth in franchise history.
Galatasaray's Ivorian striker Didier Drogba addresses a press conference in London on March 17 ...
Galatasaray's Ivorian striker Didier Drogba addresses a press conference in London on March 17, 2014
Glyn Kirk, AFP
TFC were positioned to earn a first round bye and home advantage in a two-legged semi-final tie, but losses to the Columbus Crew and Montreal Impact saw the Reds finish in the final Eastern Conference playoff spot — a conference consisting of two expansion teams. Coincidentally, the loss to local rivals Montreal Impact sets up an elimination showdown against the hottest team in the league.
The Reds were dominant in the opening half at Saputo Stadium Sunday night, but Didier Drogba’s two-minute wonder-show was enough to secure home advantage for the Impact and bump Greg Vanney’s men to sixth place. This should mean there should be very few changes in either XI, but stylistically, both sides — TFC in particular — may consider additional caution.
Vanney has experimented with several formations over the course of the season, aiming to find the best system to incorporate his three designated players — Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore — but TFC’S 4-4-2 diamond could be slightly adventurous in a knockout match. Though TFC were fluid from an attacking sense, Jozy Altidore’s quiet performance — despite scoring a great goal — combined with Bradley’s tendency to leave Benoit Cheyrou isolated should call for a switch to a 4-2-3-1.
Altidore offers a physical presence upfront and his link up play is positive, but Collen Warner alongside Cheyrou provides a shield that can nullify Ignacio Piatti, and offers Bradley the freedom to link midfield and attack with his powerful runs. It would be a surprise to see Vanney drop the American international striker based on his goal, and potential subsequent media scrutiny, but it would improve a defence that’s conceded a league worst 58 goals this season.
Mauro Biello’s main issue is whether to leave his XI unchanged or move to a 4-3-3 with Dilly Duka on the opposite flank of former TFC player Dominic Oduro.
The change ultimately shifted the momentum in Sunday’s win over the Reds offering natural width and improved service for Drogba, whereas it equally hindered TFC’s dominance in midfield. Johan Venegas limited influence on Sunday may tempt Biello to persist with a 4-3-3 that enables Piatti space to exploit from a deeper position, whilst removing his defensive duties to press Bradley and Cheyrou out of possession.
With both side preferring to sit off and defend in two banks of four, and possessing personnel issues in terms of tactical discipline, the key battle rests on which team can negate the oppositions talisman. MVP favourite, Sebastian Giovinco, recorded an MLS best 22 goals and 16 assists, whereas Drogba has scored 11 goals in 11 appearances, guiding the Impact to seven wins and two ties in that span.
“It’s quite a challenge. I’ve never faced anybody quite like that. He’s a physical player, and you just got to put numbers around him. At the end of the day he has a lot of support around him, so we just can’t focus too much on him,” said TFC defender Josh Williams.
Drogba forced several passes in the first half and was fairly distant from his teammates, and the TFC centre-backs will hope to keep the Ivorian quiet for 90 minutes. Considering Drogba doesn’t pose a threat in behind the defence, the Reds centre-backs will often have 2v1 situations against the Ivorian, and must avoid individual mistakes and mental lapses or risk being punished.
Giovinco, on the other hand, is far more dynamic, and often surges into the left channel when Jonathan Osorio drifts into central positions to help his side retain possession. Robbie Findley was superb in the opening half down the right, and with both full-backs likely to sit deeper — to avoid Piatti from igniting quick transitional attacks in the channels – Giovinco will receive space in wide areas to isolate defenders.
“A world-class player like that, you can’t stop him, you just have to contain him,” said Oduro.
“The guy’s good moving off the ball, with the ball, he’s just amazing. I need to ask him how he got that good. Maybe I could get a few tips from him. Some guys are born that way and he’s one of those guys who has that talent.”
This may force Nigel Reo-Coker or Marco Donadel to shift over to the flanks to protect their full-backs from being exploited against the clever Italian, as he was the catalyst behind several TFC moves on Sunday, and created Altidore’s opener. Collectively, neither side are renowned for the defending, and though both managers may lean towards a cautious approach, it seems likely that one of the marquee DP’s will settle the match.
Nevertheless, both Giovinco and Drogba were involved in the three goals scored Sunday night, and thwarting their influence could be the difference maker between progression or failure.