Last year's Eastern Conference winners gave this year’s East leaders their first loss of the season and a first good wake-up call to boot.
The Montreal Impact’s perfect winning start to its sophomore MLS season came to a crashing end on Saturday as Claudio Bieler and Graham Zusi helped Sporting Kansas City to a resounding 2-0 win at Sporting Park, where the home side thoroughly dominated proceedings from start to finish.
With four wins from four and top spot in the league standings, the Montreal Impact had been the talk of MLS in recent weeks, but it was clear from the outset of Saturday’s encounter that Peter Vermes’ men had done their homework and were more than ready for the challenge.
Much of what gave the Impact success in their opening four games was their ability to play through the middle and to get players between the defensive and midfield lines of the opposition to devastating effect.
In the first half of the game, the SKC midfield trio of Oriol Rosell, Benny Feilhaber and Paulo Nagamura closed out the middle of the field, forcing the Impact to play to the outside where wingers Justin Mapp and Andres Romero proved largely ineffective.
Montreal native Patrice Bernier has been the Impact’s creative force in midfield so far this year, but KC’s fierce high pressure game worked to perfection as the 33-year-old was taken out of the match. It was Bernier’s giveaway only five minutes into the first half which lead to the host's opening goal of the night.
With the Impact forced to the outside and Bernier not given any time on the ball, the Impact weren’t able to create any of the counter attacking opportunities fashioned so consistently in the first four games. With little in the way of possession and forward Marco Di Vaio isolated up top, the Impact rarely threatened Jimmy Nielsen’s goal throughout the course of the 90 minutes.
The Impact came into the match having only conceded two goals from its first four games and have looked strong defensively - two opening wins on the road against the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders were particularly impressive. But the Impact looked shaky at the back against KC, as the home side found its way through the Impact defense almost with ease. Bernier was left with too much ground to cover in midfield as Sporting created numerical advantages on the outside of the Impact’s defense on countless occasions and also found far too many spaces in which to maneuver in front of the Impact’s back line.
It took until the 80thminute for Sporting to seal the victory as Zusi added to his team’s advantage, but the game could easily have finished by four or five in favor of the home side.
To make matters worse, Impact head coach Marco Schällibaum - nicknamed the Swiss Volcano - was sent off in the second half after reportedly throwing water at one of the match officials and will now miss, at the very least, the Impact’s next game at home in two weeks’ time.
As much as losing stings, the Impact shouldn't be overly disappointed with themselves. After all, the team still has sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. It just has to learn from its mistakes and move on. But the loss will certainly be a wake-up call.