ORLANDO, Fla. – They say expansion teams experience growing pains, and Friday night’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps on the opening night of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic will have felt like one of those pains for the Montreal Impact.
Despite a positive stretch in the last 20 minutes of the first half, the Impact struggled against the new-look Whitecaps.
“We know as an expansion team it’s going to be tough days, but our way of dealing with it, our way of learning from it and how we move forward is going to be very important,” Montreal manager Jesse Marsch told MLSsoccer.com after the match.
The former US national team assistant coach pointed to his team's lack of sharpness with the ball and the need to find ways to be dangerous in the attacking third come Sunday’s encounter against Sporting Kansas City.
While the more experienced Whitecaps expertly controlled possession and the tempo of the match, the Impact were often hasty, imprecise or predictable with the ball at their feet.
Despite the imperfections, Montreal still had the best chance to take the lead in the 25th minute, only to watch Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon make a prodigious double save on Impact captain Davy Arnaud and striker Eduardo Sebrango.
But aside from a few set pieces and other long-distance Felipe Martins blasts, the Impact didn’t otherwise register many other scoring opportunities.
The lack of enterprising play on the flanks was especially evident and that may be explained by the forced absences of wingers Justin Mapp (personal), Sanna Nyassi (Gambian national team), right back Zarek Valentin (USA Under-23s) and striker Justin Braun. The team was already missing defender Nelson Rivas (muscle tear) and Ian Westlake (Achilles tendonitis).
And Marsch will be hopeful he did not lose yet another player after Hassoun Camara injured his ankle again while executing a wild tackle in the box. Vancouver would score on the ensuing penalty kick, summing up the definitive 3-0 lead. Camara, who first twisted his right ankle in practice on February 4, had resumed practicing with the Impact's senior team on Thursday and seemed back to full health before Friday.
“I think he’ll be ok. I don’t think it was too serious,” Marsch commented after the match.
The Impact also suffered another blow in the form of a Darren Mattocks goal and personal dedication after the match, as Vancouver’s No. 2 overall pick sought to stick it to Montreal for passing on him at No. 1.
It’s all part of the pain and grief expansion teams typically endure.
“We’re committed to each other and committed to this in a really strong way and having a strong mentality,” continued Marsch. “So when we beat the LA Galaxy 3-0 [earlier this month], we didn’t think that we were the best team in the league because we beat the champions. And when we lose to a team that struggled last year, we don’t think that now we’re a terrible team.
“Again, this [game vs. Vancouver] is a good game. A good game for us to be in and now a good game for us to learn from.”
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