GUADALAJARA, Mexico – So far, so good in 2012 for the Montreal Impact.
The Canadian club has yet to concede in two preseason games and came away with a well-earned 1-0 victory against Estudiantes Tecos on Tuesday thanks to a nicely taken 63rd-minute goal from Justin Braun.
With the game knotted at 0-0, Josh Gardner launched an excellently measured ball over the defense, which Braun latched onto, lobbing the ball first time over the sprawling goalkeeper from 25 yards. It marked the first goal of Montreal's preseason.
“[Gardner] put the ball right where it needed to be and I was able to finish it,” Braun explained to MLSsoccer.com after the game.
The MLS newcomers played two 40-minute halves against the Mexican first-division side, with coach Jesse Marsch swapping the entire 11 at halftime.
In the first half, the Impact shaded possession, with right back Simon Gatti and speedy winger Evan James showing early signs of a budding right-sided partnership.
Sinisa Ubiparipovic went closest for Montreal in the 21st minute, striking a free kick from 20 yards just over the bar.
The partnership between striker Brian Ching and Davy Arnaud – who played in the hole – showed glimpses of inspiration, but the veteran pair still look like they're only beginning to gel together.
At the back, Montreal restricted Tecos – whose side comprised fringe first-team players – to very few scoring opportunities.
Gienir García, a former Mexico Under-20 international who was acquired from Vancouver last week, caught the eye for his maturity and composure alongside Nelson Rivas in both of Montreal's first two games in Guadalajara and was instrumental in blunting Tecos’ attack.
The second half side put out by Marsch looked more fluid going forward, but leaked chances at the back as the game flowed from end to end. Sanna Nyassi, playing just off Braun, was a constant threat for the Impact, with his lightning speed and mazy runs.
Former Chivas USA striker Eduardo Lillingston was guilty of missing two guilt-edged chances late for Tecos as fatigue crept in for Montreal, but assistant coach Mike Sorber was happy overall with what he saw.
“It's always positive when you get a win,” Sorber told MLSsoccer.com at the Tres de Marzo stadium. “There were a lot of good plays and a lot of things that need to be worked on.”
Sorber, who played for Mexico's Pumas UNAM from 1994-96, added that fitness is the No. 1 issue for the Impact right now, followed by increasing the speed of play and chemistry between the recently assembled group of players.
Although the Impact are a visibly tall and physically strong team, signs from the first two friendlies suggest passing soccer along the floor will be the Canadian side's playing philosophy for 2012.
“That's the idea,” said Sorber. “We would like to be a team that likes to move the ball quick, with guys that are comfortable on the ball, good movement and spacing, and we want to try and play soccer.”
Sorber added that it's too soon to name a club captain, and the Impact have not given anyone the armband in the first two preseason games.
The Impact face local university ITESO on Wednesday afternoon, followed by a game Thursday morning against Atlas.
1st-half lineup: Donovan Ricketts, Tyson Wahl, Nelson Rivas, Gienir García, Simon Gatti, Justin Mapp, Evan James, Felipe Martins, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Brian Ching, Davy Arnaud
2nd-half lineup: Greg Sutton, Josh Gardner, Hassoun Camara, Nevio Pizzolitto, Shavar Thomas, Gerson Mayen, Patrice Bernier, Collen Warner, Francisco Mendoza, Sanna Nyassi, Justin Braun
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.