By FRANCO PANIZO
In terms of performances this season, the Montreal Impact have had moments where they have looked far from an expansion team. In terms of results, they are exactly an expansion team.
A month into their inaugural MLS season, the Impact boast an underwhelming 0-3-1 record, which is tied for second-worst in the league with the Philadelphia Union. The negative results have come despite the Impact showing glimpses of being a team capable of playing good soccer.
From their home-opening draw with the Chicago Fire to the first half of their most recent loss to the New York Red Bulls, Montreal has demonstrated it is more advanced than most expansion teams of the past. That still has not stopped the negative results and critiques from raining in, but the Impact believe they have played better than their record shows. They'll have to maintain a high level of play if they are to earn a result at Rio Tinto Stadium Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake (9 p.m., MLS Live/Direct Kick).
"To start the season, our performances for the most part have been pretty good," said Impact captain Davy Arnaud. "We just haven't gotten results."
The Impact's most recent result, a 5-2 loss to the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, was a sign that the team still has some maturing to do. Montreal went ahead twice in the first half, but both times the Impact surrendered the lead, including on a stoppage-time penalty kick that came about because of a clumsy challenge by centerback Matteo Ferrari.
That costly error seemed to rattle the Impact's nerves, as the Red Bulls came out of the intermission with the momentum and control of the game. A sloppy turnover by Zarek Valentin not long after halftime led to a goal. That was followed by a poor defensive play on the right flank that allowed for another goal, before goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts spilled a shot that Thierry Henry pounced on for the final tally late in the game.
"I think 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," said Impact head coach Jesse Marsch. "If we now play with guys on their own page and trying their own thing and not stay organized and disciplined in what we think is important, then we're going to have a lot of trouble."
With any expansion team, the chemistry is always a work in progress, and the Impact are not immune to that. At times this season, forwards Sanna Nyassi, Justin Braun and Bernardo Corradi have played well together. Other times they have looked disjointed, meaning there's plenty of room for improvement.
"That stuff takes a while and you develop it over the time," said Arnaud. "The mood is okay. We're obviously frustrated that we haven't gotten the results that we would have wanted so far, but we're dedicated to what we're doing, and we're committed to keep pushing in the right direction and get us where we want to be."
Another area that the Impact admit they need to improve on is their defense. In their four March matches, Montreal has given up 10 goals. Part of that may be because they played three of their four games on the road, but that defensive frailty needs to be corrected if Montreal is to right the ship.
"We have to be even tougher to play against," said Arnaud. "That's one thing we want to be, we want to be tough to play against, and we'll continue to try and improve that. At the end of the day, you've got to give up less goals. That will help us get results."
The Impact's next chance to pick up their first three-point haul of the year will come under difficult circumstances in one of the most difficult places to play. Montreal will need a complete performance at Rio Tinto in order to pull out a result, let alone a win.
That means Marsch will need to make his team forget about their second-half collapse to the Red Bulls and focus on an RSL team that is coming off a dramatic road win over the Portland Timbers. Veteran players, like Arnaud, Ricketts and Canadian Patrice Bernier, can also help with that process.
"As an older player, any of our older players, try and set a good example," said Arnaud. "A lot of guys who have played the game for a long time have been through moments where you're not getting results that you think that maybe you should be getting.
"You just got to know, and let the other guys know, that if the performances are good and the attitude is right, the points will come."
If the Impact are able to address their areas of concern soon enough, the points will indeed come.
Then they might be looked at less as an expansion team and more as a club learning and playing well beyond its years.