The Impact were not going to let Sporting Kansas City run circles around them – literally – this time.
When they lost 2-0 at Sporting Park on March 30, Montreal looked disoriented and unable to muster up much offense despite their slight advantage in terms of possession (six total attempts with 51.8 percent of the ball, albeit skewed by the fact that Kansas City scored in the fifth minute). Sporting KC, meanwhile, used the ball brilliantly, moving past the lines at will.
Adjustments were thus needed and subsequently executed, leading the Impact to a 2-1 road victory over their Eastern Conference foes this past Saturday.
While Montreal played 4-1-4-1, Peter Vermes apparently asked that one of his forwards constantly drop onto Patrice Bernier, keeping him busy while the Sporting KC midfield trio occupied Davy Arnaud and Felipe. The solution Montreal found was one they’ve had in their bag of tricks for a while: 4-2-3-1, with Bernier’s 2012 partner Collen Warner joining him in the line of two.
"It went well with three guys, it allowed us to neutralize their midfield," Bernier told MLSsoccer.com after the game. "Last time around, we played more like 2-v-3 than 3-v-3. In the first half, we managed to prevent the play from going on in the middle and push them to the wings."
"You could see that everybody was very comfortable," said Warner. "We started the game really well. I thought that, except for the penalty, we played that first half almost perfectly. It was a little bit of our habits from last year and a little bit more confidence with the way things have been going."
The change didn’t improve Montreal’s ball retention, but it did help Marco Schällibaum’s side when Sporting KC had possession: it forced the opponents down the flanks and opened space in the middle for their own swift passing movements.
"In the first half, we executed plays quickly," Bernier said. "It looked a bit like highlights from last year: quick combinations with Felipe, through to Marco [Di Vaio], finding Sanna [Nyassi] in behind. We created maybe three chances in the first half and found some of what we did last year. We connect great."