The Montreal Impact played a dangerous game this season. They came out of the gate "hot," in that they picked up 12 points from their first four games.
But they picked them up by sitting deep, letting the opponent dictate the run of play, then hitting on the counter. It's a good tactic in March, when teams are disjointed and you can rely on bad turnovers to fuel your offense.
It's a bad tactic come summertime, when teams are sharper, better organized, and less prone to bad turnovers. Montreal, from late June onwards, went 7-13-5 across all competitions, and never really figured out how to dictate the pace of a game, or where it would be played.
They were, for all intents and purposes, a bad, directionless team – and judging by their body language, they knew it.
Here are three things we learned from Houston's dominant 3-0 beat down on Thursday night:
1. Rico Clark has settled into his new role
Last year's MLS Cup was, in part, defined by Clark's ability to push forward into good spots, then fail to make good passes. It had to be frustrating for anyone of the orange persuasion.
Dominic Kinnear kept the faith and, after a series of very bad defensive performances near the end of the summer, stuck Clark into that spot for good. And Rico has repaid him handsomely:
That's an assist any midfielder in the league would be happy to have on their highlight reel. And while it's still an outlier for Clark – he's still much more of an "advanced destroyer" than a playmaker, or even really a No. 8 – he's been able to find telling passes more and more often.
And as a result, the Dynamo are looking much closer to the type of threat most thought they'd be this season.
2. There are always gaps against the Impact
This was a team that lacked discipline, both tactical and emotional. I'll let someone else figure out the locker-room reasons behind that.
Honestly, though, the Impact were defined by either their inability to attack from the 4-2-3-1, or defend from the 4-4-2.
When they chose the latter, tonight's beat-down became inevitable:
Montreal is the worst def team in the playoffs by a much larger margin than Houston is worst off team. So there you have it.— Brian Straus (@BrianStraus) November 1, 2013
3. Houston's attack is better than the numbers say
It comes down to two things: Will Bruin's finishing, which – duh – was really good tonight after being really bad all season; and Boniek Garcia's ability to get into the final third and create chances.
This map of Boniek's final third touches has to be terrifying for the Red Bulls, who are next up for Houston and have all sorts of lingering injury questions at both fullback spots:
Containing the Dynamo means pushing those touches much, much wider. As close to the touchline as is possible, really.
Marco Schällibaum didn't appear to know this; Mike Petke seemingly does.
New York will be ready. But this is autumn, and once again the Dynamo are here.