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From giving up leads, to Patrice Bernier's diminishing role, dissects the first eight games of the Montreal Impact expansion season in Major League Soccer.

The Montreal Impact played their eighth game of the season and claimed their first away point on Wednesday night in a 1-1 draw to DC United.

The Impact are already 45 minutes away from reaching the first quarter mark of its expansion season in MLS and with the forthcoming weekend off, head coach Jesse Marsch will finally have some extra time to sit down with his staff and ponder his team’s performance over the first few weeks.

The record until now leaves much to be desired: one win, two draws and five losses. Five points obtained from a possible 24 - one point from six games on the road and four points from two games at home. Seven goals scored, 15 conceded.

Naturally, there’s only so much one can ask from an expansion team, but if there was one demand - a minimum objective at the start of season - it was that of being competitive. And mission accomplished in that respect, because except for the forty five minutes in the second half against the New York Red Bulls, the Impact haven’t looked, by any means, noticeably inferior against any of the opponents they have faced up to this point.

It’s 1-0, what do we do now?

What hasn’t helped the Impact’s cause thus far is their inability to defend a lead. The Impact have opened the scoring in five of its first eight games, but have only been able to win one of those five.

Not being able to hold on to a lead is in large part due to not being able to add to it. The Impact have only been able to score a second goal on two occasions.

Given Montreal’s inability to produce offensively (seven goals in eight matches), the odds are that the team is more likely to give up a goal before scoring a second. So when the Impact do find themselves in front, the priority has to be defending the lead instead of trying to add to it, unlike, for example, when Marsch decided to insert forwards Andrew Wenger and Sanna Nyassi into the fray against FC Dallas with twenty minutes left to go and a 1-0 lead to consolidate - the Impact would lose the game 2-1.  

After Italian striker Bernardo Corradi had opened the scoring in the 69th minute against DC United on Wednesday, defending the lead was exactly what Marsch had in mind as he looked to bring on Patrice Bernier to help protect the back four. However, four minutes later, just before Bernier was able to sub in, DC had already found an equalizer through Maicon Santos. 

Saves or Save

Truth be told, Santos’ long-ranged equalizer should never have beaten Impact goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts in the first place. And this being only one of a number of errors that the Jamaican international has committed so far this season, questions need to start being asked about the goalkeeping position.  

While Ricketts has had some very good moments, he’s been far too inconsistent, and inconsistency is the last thing you want from your goalkeeper, especially as one of the highest paid players in the side.

If things don’t improve for Ricketts, don’t be surprised that he's shipped out come July. It’s not something that can wait and there are plenty of cheaper alternatives, starting with Evan Bush.

The Ohio native has lots of potential, was flawless with the Impact last season in the North American Soccer League and is raring to go. At this point, he deserves a chance to prove himself at the MLS level.

Much ado about Bernier

Patrice Bernier, the only French Canadian in Marsch’s roster, was excluded from the Impact starting lineup for the fourth game in a row and it's caused a bit of a stir in the Belle Province.

However, his omission from the starting XI should come as no surprise, for as long as Marsch decides to use a 4-4-2 formation and midfielders Collen Warner and Felipe Martins are match fit, Bernier will likely be on the sidelines.

Bernier has the characteristics of a holding or defensive midfielder, which makes him better suited to playing in a three-man midfield where his responsibilities could be limited to offering defensive cover to the back four.

In a 4-4-2, the two central midfielders need to be able to play from one box to the other (box-to-box), which means not only being able protect the defensive line but also having the ability to get forward and create offensively.

Bernier has had his chance to prove himself in the first four games in that role, but Warner, who played the last four games in his place, has clearly been an upgrade.

Tactical Alternatives

There is, of course, the alternative of playing Bernier, Felipe and Warner all at once in a three-man midfield, and Marsch admitted last week in training that this was an option that was being considered. 

A 4-3-3 would also give offensive-minded wingers - like Justin Mapp, Lamar Neagle - and attack minded players that have had to play on the wing - like Davy Arnaud and Sinisa Ubiparipovic - the chance to play further up the field without having to run exhaustively up and down the flank, as would be required of them as wingers in a 4-4-2 formation.  

As they wait in joyful hope

The back four of Tyson Wahl, Matteo Ferrari, Shavar Thomas and Zarek Valentin is improving every game, while Columbian central defender Nelson Rivas should be making his long awaited debut within the next three weeks.

The Impact still remain undefeated at home, and that’s something they’ll need to continue to exploit.

If Montreal doesn’t find itself too far adrift from the playoff spots when the attacking reinforcements come in July, the expansion side will have a good shot at the postseason, especially in the weaker Eastern Conference.  

Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Canada. Follow Nick on Twitter.