Ignacio Piatti may not spend much time this year as central or close to goal as he did at the start of 2015, but that does not mean he expects his goal-scoring total to decrease.
In fact, despite his positional change, he is looking to do even better statistically this year than he did last.
The Montreal Impact are hoping to start the new MLS season by picking up where they left off three months ago. The Impact were knocked out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but were still one of the hottest teams during the final few months of the campaign.
Star striker Didier Drogba was the player who grabbed much of the plaudits and recognition for that impressive run of form, but he will not be the only one tasked with leading the Impact’s attack. Piatti once again shoulders much of that responsibility as a fellow Designated Player, but the difference now from this time last year is that he is preparing to play out wide on the left of a three-man front line rather than in the hole behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
“The difference is I can see the whole field in front of me,” Piatti told SBI about what it is like for him to play out wide on the left. “When I’m behind the striker, sometimes I receive the ball with my back to goal and I don’t know who’s behind me and I can’t turn around. When I’m on the left, I can push it forward quickly or hit a diagonal ball. I also know that I am near the sideline and can attack from there on the left towards goal and hit shots on frame.”
The 31-year-old Piatti is counting on doing plenty of shooting at goal this season. He finished his first full year in MLS with nine goals, but netted just once in the six regular-season matches he appeared in after Drogba’s introduction to the squad.
Naturally, there is room for improvement, even if Piatti is familiar and comfortable with the position after having played it during earlier parts of his career.
“I think with Nacho, he has the ability to put up good numbers in this league and easily, easily those nine goals could have been 14-15 in terms of chances created by him,” Impact head coach Mauro Biello told SBI. “Hopefully we can keep him healthy, keep him in good form, and he’ll be somebody that will be able to unbalance oppositions with his qualities.”
Added Piatti: “It’s about trying to improve my numbers from last year. I want to score more goals.”
What should help Piatti in his quest for double-digit goals in 2016 is that the Impact have brought back the bulk of last year’s squad. That means he is largely familiar with how most of his teammates like to play, and that established chemistry could pay off for him and the club as they attempt to rediscover the magic that had Montreal buzzing with excitement last fall.
Piatti will also not be confined to hugging the sideline. As was the the case late last season, the Impact plan to give the playmaker a license to roam. Yes, Piatti will be playing off of Drogba at times, but will also be allowed to float around when situations call for it.
“One thing is for him to start in a formation out wide, but it’s how he animates and how we want to animate as a team,” said Biello. “He’ll have that freedom to move and find space and find time. Sometimes he’ll be on the left, sometimes he’ll be underneath the forward, and sometimes he’ll be even deeper.
“It’s how we want to animate that game, and for us it’s important when you have a player like that who will keep oppositions guessing.”
All this is not to say that Piatti has been freed from his obligation of creating scoring chances for other teammates. He will still be counted on to produce assists, and getting more than the eight he had in 2015 seems like another attainable accomplishment for him so long as he avoids long-term injuries.
Piatti is not counting on anything to derail his season, however. He has set out some lofty goals for himself and the Impact, and is keen on accomplishing all of them to top his solid first full season in Montreal.
“Truthfully, I was very pleased with what was done last year, both from a collective standpoint and a personal standpoint,” said Piatti. “I scored a lot of goals in the CONCACAF Champions League, and I was one of the top scorers in Montreal behind Didier. I was very happy with the season I had, but that’s in the past and now it’s about doing better than last year and dream of an MLS Cup title and the Canadian Cup.”