With Marco Di Vaio back in Italy, something was bound to change for the Impact, but even if the Montréal’s leading goal scorer wasn’t back home dealing with a family issue, Marco Schällibaum’s team needed to be tweaked. They’d allowed 12 goals in their last four games, dropped points to the likes of Toronto FC and Chivas USA, and lost their hold on first in the East. Montréal had let the pack come back to them. For Saturday’s visit from FC Dallas, the Impact needed to try something different.
That something different was the re-introduction of the one-front. For most of their swoon, Montréal’s played a 4-4-2 – Schällibaum’s attempt to get Bologna loanee Daniel Paponi into the team, changing their set-up from the 4-5-1 (4-1-4-1) formation the Impact rode to the top of the conference. Davy Arnaud’s fitness was also a factor in the switch, but even after the captain’s return, Montréal has persisted with two up top, leaving them one lighter in the middle. On Saturday, however, Montréal was back to their five-midfield ways.
The result, as you’d expect from only 90 minutes of play, was somewhat inconclusive. The Impact kept a rare clean sheet in their 0-0 draw. On the balance of play, Montréal were probably the better side, though not so much better that Dallas deserved to go home empty handed. Ultimately, without Di Vaio in the team, the hosts were unable to produce a goal, dropping points at home.
There were reasons to think things could be better going forward. The increased influence Montréal had on the match was obvious, though that may have been a function of Dallas’s style, as well. The game’s slow tempo in tandem with the 4-1-4-1 versus 4-2-3-1 matchup meant the game would likely stay low scoring. But if Di Vaio was in the team and crafting the type of isolated openings he did during Montréal’s hot start, Saturday’s game could have looked a lot like those the Impact rode to the top of the Eastern Conference.
For a team with a particular need to protect a solid but slow central defense, dropping a man in the middle was always worth watching, but curbing a run that saw them leaking goals, a five-midfielder Montréal provided a little more evidence to suggest they need to revert to their spring formula. Perhaps Schällibaum sees a need to get an extra forward into the XI, but right now, he’s shunning something that works.