Nick Sabetti: Impact suffer from having to be perfect

Not having a goal scorer means that the Impact have the difficult task of keeping mistakes to an absolute minimum if it wants to win, but there’s a plus side to that.

The Montreal Impact will be looking for their first win of the season this week when they travel to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake, and if Saturday’s 5-2 loss on the road to the New York Red Bulls is any indication, beating the joint leaders of the Western Conference will be a difficult task.   

“The second half got much too open and we allowed way too much space for their talented players and they punished us,” said Impact head coach Jesse Marsch about his team’s display in New York. “We all have to stay focused on how to move ourselves along. It’s a moment of big frustration because we felt we played a good first half, but one half does not get you results.”

While giving their best effort for 90 minutes is essential if the Impact want to put points on the board, it seems as if other teams aren’t obliged to put in that same kind of endeavour to do the same.

The Vancouver Whitecaps weren’t by any means impressive against the Impact in the first game of the season, but they were able to finish the few chances they had and won that game 2-0.

In the Impact’s home opener at the Olympic Stadium, the Chicago Fire looked quite lackadaisical through the best part of 90 minutes, but on the one real chance they were able to create, they scored and went home with a point.

The Columbus Crew looked rusty and quite vulnerable in the opening stretch of the Impact’s third game, but by the 28th minute the Ohio side was up 1-0 and playing against 10 men, despite having done little to show for it.

And it seemed like the same tune all over again in New York on Saturday, where the Red Bulls, even after being outplayed in the first 45 minutes, still managed to go in at halftime with the score level at 2-2.

“I want to take my hat off to this [Impact] team” Red Bull star striker Thierry Henry told RDS after the match. “They played very well, they could have easily been ahead 3-0 or 3-1 at half time”.

The problem is that the Impact don’t have a goal scorer. Sure, the expansion side can get down the field and can create chances, but it doesn’t have someone who can punish other teams on a consistent basis.

The Red Bulls can and sometimes do get away with being, at times, a bit slack or ordinary for a half or a period of a game, because they have quality up front. A player like Henry who can remedy difficult situations, just like he did against the Impact on Saturday when he scored three goals and assisted on another.

The Impact don’t have that same luxury. If something goes wrong, if the other team opens the scoring in the first few minutes because of a lack of concentration, or if the referee gets a call wrong and awards a penalty to the opposing team - yes, it’s frustrating, but it will happen to everyone – the odds that the Impact are able to get something positive out of the game become extremely low.    

So if Marsch’s men are going to win games, they’ll need to be perfect, or at very least awfully good, and that means being disciplined (not getting ejected from a game like Jeb Brovsky did against Columbus), giving very little away defensively, finishing their chances and hoping that they aren’t too hard done by erroneous refereeing decisions.

Naturally, that’s easier said than done and when the margin of error is so thin, results are going to be very hard to come by.

For his part, Marsch is well aware of his team’s limitations and understands that they are going to have to work hard to have any chance of winning.

“We need to understand that in order to be successful we have to stick to what we're good at and to playing as a group.” Jesse Marsch told the media after the New York game.“If we now play with guys on their own page and trying their own thing and not stay organized and disciplined to what we think is important, then were going to have a lot of trouble.”

On the bright side, not having a star-studded attack force from the beginning may very well prove to be a blessing in disguise in the long run. In this way, the Impact can focus on building a team mentality centered on hard work, and foster good playing habits like being disciplined defensively and doing the utmost to minimize mistakes, because when it comes to the playoffs and the big games that really matter, carelessness is costly for it is often a small detail that proves to be the difference between moving on or going home.

And a team like the Red Bulls would have, and have had, a hard time adjusting to that kind of meticulous game, because it’s not one that they are accustomed to playing.

As the Impact wait for their own designated players to wreak havoc on opponent’s defenses, both the team and its fans will have to remain patient. For now, getting results will be a toilsome affair, but acquiring a familiarity of that experience will pay dividends going forward.