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Despite the Impact’s central defensive surplus, a back three formation isn’t in the cards and the team will continue with a four man defence, though with some slight 'tweaks'

MONTREAL - Matteo Ferrari has been an almost general-like figure for the Montreal Impact’s defence so far this season, but when the Impact faced the New York Red Bulls last Saturday, he seemed to have lost some prominence.

The legendary Alessandro Nesta made his debut with Montreal and played alongside Nelson Rivas in central defence, while Ferrari, who had only just returned from injury, started on the bench. He was expecting to substitute Rivas around the 60th minute, but given the Colombian’s exceptional play on the night, Ferrari would only make his entrance in the 78th minute and the defender was furious for not having gone on sooner.

With the return of Rivas and Ferrari from injury and Nesta’s start with the team, head coach Jesse Marsch now has almost an excess of talent in defence, especially at centre back where there are five players – Nesta, Rivas, Ferrari, Hassoun Camara and Shavar Thomas - competing for two positions. Having this surplus should only be a good thing, but it does come with some inevitable hurdles, like keeping everyone happy or, as Marsch told reporters in training this week, getting the best possible arrangement.

“We do have a lot of depth at centre back,” said Marsch. “And now that everyone’s healthy, it’s about trying to figure out how to move forward, how to get the right combination on the field and give us the best chance to get wins. It’s a little bit of a tough spot, but it’s a spot you want to be in as a manager because you want good options and it’s up to me to manage it the right way.”

One solution would be the adoption of a 3-5-2 formation. Nesta, Rivas and Ferrari could play together in the center of defense and fullbacks like Dennis Iapichino and Zarek Valentin could push up into the wide midfield positions.

Effective as it may be, this sort of setup would take time to implement, as it involves a significantly greater degree of sophistication than most other formations would. Besides, with only ten games remaining this season, there likely wouldn’t be enough time to successfully make this kind of change and now’s not the time to make drastic tactical transformations. Plus, the alteration would leave Justin Mapp, Lamar Neagle and captain Davy Arnaud with nowhere to play, and what good would that serve?

Marsch also hinted that a 3-5-2 would leave his players “with too much to do” - especially the wide players as they would have to act as defenders and also help the team in the offensive phase - and that’s something he wants to avoid.

Instead, Marsch wants to continue with the back four the Impact played with against New York, which saw central defender Camara play on the right hand side, but without really venturing forward all too often. The plan would be for Ferrari to take Camara’s place.

“We’re going to think about tweaking [the defence] a little bit,” said Marsch. “Maybe Matteo [Ferrari] is a bit to one side and when we’re playing sometimes it looks like we’re playing out of a three [man defence] but in other ways it looks like we’re defending out of a four [man defence] and that’s something we thought of before Alessandro [Nesta] entered the mix. For me it’s just a little twist on the field to get the best out of everybody.”


Valentin will likely take back his place at right fullback when he returns from injury in the next week or two, which means one of Nesta, Ferrari and Rivas would have to sit out. They might not like it now, but this depth will be fundamental when next season comes around and the Impact are back to playing every three days and having to cope with injured players.

Unlike in many instances this year, Marsch will be able to rotate his players and still count on a strong group to defend the fort.

Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Canada.