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article imageImpact nullify Toronto FC's strengths to claim Canadian Cup

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jun 5, 2014 in Sports
Toronto FC’s five match unbeaten run heading into the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final would normally strike fear into the Montreal Impact.
When a team in any sport remains unbeaten over five games they should be dreaded, but TFC’s performances over the course of the 2013/2014 season have been far from convincing.
Frank Klopas’ team selection was based on an impressive second half performance at BMO Field, as he aligned his side in a 4-4-2. Marco Di Vaio and Jack McInerney led the line, with Andres Romero and Justin Mapp on the flanks. Klopas acknowledged the pressure applied on TFC’s back-line in the second half of the first leg, and with the Impact needing a scoreless draw to progress, this ensured that his side offered a goal threat, while nullifying TFC’s strengths.
The one issue that often occurs when two sides play identical formations is the likelihood of canceling out the opposition. This worked in favour of the Impact as their main goal was preventing TFC from snagging an away goal.
Klopas’ decision to target TFC’s inexperienced midfield two was logical, and Hernan Bernadello and Patrice Bernier admirably kept Kyle Bekker and Jeremy Hall quiet. Bekker dropped deeper between Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell to receive the ball and build play from the back, but Bernadello and Bernier pushed higher up the pitch to close down the TFC midfielder. The Impact maintained a medium block on the halfway line, and considering Hall’s limited passing range, the idea to negate Bekker –– who controlled the final 25 minutes of the first leg at BMO –– was crucial.
Both sides struggled to create chances in the opening half hour, and the combination play between the strikers was the only plausible source of attack. Jermain Defoe dropped between the lines on numerous occasions to receive the ball and link play with teammate Luke Moore, but the duo failed to test goalkeeper Evan Rush.
The Impact’s attacking duo also combined naturally, as Di Vaio dropped into space between the lines, but neither striker could out-muscle or outrun Henry. Following a run of game-changing errors, Henry has settled back into the starting eleven, and the TFC defender produced a fabulous performance alongside Caldwell. Henry was first to every ball in the air, and he made several last-ditch interventions to keep TFC in the tie.
Impact midfielder, Bernadello, however, was equally impressive. TFC dropped into their traditional two banks of four without the ball, but neither Hall nor Bekker pressed the Impact midfielder. Bernadello was free to dictate the tempo of the match in deep areas, and he played two delightful balls into Mapp and Di Vaio that should’ve given the Impact the lead. The Impact midfielder’s all-round performance –– from set-pieces to beating defenders –– was magnificent, and Nelsen’s men failed to contain his threat.
Nelsen attempted to inject the attack-minded revival that steered TFC past the Columbus Crew on the weekend, with the introduction of Gilberto, Dwayne De Rosario, and Jonathan Osorio. TFC remained Nelsen’s preferred 4-4-2, but as they continued to push men forward, Klopas’ side received more space to exploit on the break. TFC’s best chance was handed to Osorio who received a chest pass from De Rosario in the box, before evading a challenge and placing the ball of the post.
Nelsen’s men received chances on the break through Defoe, but poor decision-making, and the Reds’ inability to play a final ball summed up their difficult night. Substitute Felipe won the match in stoppage time –– following Di Vaio’s thunderous shot off the crossbar –– as he controlled the rebound with his chest, and placed his shot past Joe Bendik.
“I knew it was going to be a close game,” Klopas said. “With the quality players [Toronto] have in the final third, we just had to make sure we defended really well. Sometimes things are just meant to be.”
Ultimately, TFC’s downfall this season has been the club’s lack of a tactical identity. Nelsen’s side struggle to retain possession, and they appear clueless in the final third. While the club has been able to grind out results this season, their current style is unlikely to be successful over the long-term.
Still, Nelsen peculiarly expressed that he was pleased with his side’s performance.
“I thought [our] performance was really good,” Nelsen stated. “We had some really nice periods of play, controlled the game at times, but just couldn’t get that break.”
Here, Montreal was organized without the ball, and they negated TFC’s main outlet to the strikers by pressing Bekker.
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