PORTLAND, Ore. — Marco Schällibaum may be new to Major League Soccer, but you couldn’t tell by the way he’s set up his team. Two games and six points into his Montréal Impact career, Schällibaum may as well have taken a page out of the books of Bruce Arena, Dominic Kinnear, and the other veteran coaches who’ve had consistent success in MLS. He’s kept it simple.
Using the same compact, conservative setup that earned a 1-0 win last week in Seattle, Montréal defeated Portland 2-1 on Saturday night, a match that was never in any real doubt. To look at the numbers alone you’d never know, with Portland holding large advantages in possession (64 percent) and shots (19-9). Aside from two chances for Ryan Johnson, the second of which was converted off a Ben Zemanski cross in the 81st minute, Portland failed to seriously stress Troy Perkins.
The Impact, on the other hand, proved dangerous early and often. In the eighth minute, Felipe pulled an open shot from inside the penalty area just wide of Donovan Ricketts’ goal. Three minutes later, Marco Di Vaio’s header was kept out by a spectacular save from Ricketts. The resulting corner kick saw an unmarked Hassoun Camara’s flick from the near post go just wide, while an open chance for Davy Arnaud in the 21st minute went for naught after the Montréal midfielder failed to control a cross from Jed Brovsky.
Montreal finally broke through in the 30th minute and spectacularly so, with Camara’s overhead kick from 16 yards going into the left side netting. With Portland pushing for a second half equalizer, Felipe doubled the Impact’s lead in the 60th minute. A pristine pass from Patrice Bernier was converted to into the backbreaker by a sharp cutback pass from Andrea Pisanu.
It was the second straight week Schällibaum’s team had put on a clinic, his veteran squad content to sit back and wait for a mistake before pouncing. In Seattle, it was Arnaud and Di Vaio taking advantage of some momentary Sounder disorganization. Against Portland, a first half foul from Darlington Nagbe led to the first, while a spectacular pass and run that exploited Michael Harrington delivered the second.
It’s a plan that could blow up on other teams. But Schällibaum has the experience of Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari, and Patrice Bernier as the foundation of the defense. He has Di Vaio to control the attack, with Felipe and Davy Arnaud to run off him.
“It means a lot, when you have a group of guys who have played in big games and big moments,” Arnaud, the team’s captain said of his team’s experience. “We’ve had a lot of guys who’ve experienced that. When the times were kind of hectic on the field at different times of the game, there’s never a real sense of panic amongst the group, and that’s good.”
To his credit, Schällibaum has left it to his players. He has out a 4-1-4-1, instilled some basic tactical precepts, and let his talent do their thing. If he had his team executing a complicated scheme that relied on more than veteran guile and an opportunism, his team could have struggled starting the season so far from home.
Instead, Montréal has six points. Perhaps unexpectedly so.