MONTREAL – Didier Drogba got the better of Sebastian Giovinco on Sunday. The Montreal Impact need to ensure it happens again in an even more important meeting, Thursday's game in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
But Giovinco does not let opponents shut him down so easily. He has scored or provided an assist in 22 of his 33 career MLS games – including last Sunday.
In Sunday's first half, Giovinco tormented the Montreal back line. His crosses for Robbie Findley and goalscorer Jozy Altidore were a worrying sight, and he had unleashed a couple of dangerous shots by the half-hour mark.
“You look at his stats, and they speak for themselves,” center back Laurent Ciman told reporters on Wednesday morning. “He’s a threat from anywhere. We’ve seen it: You give him one meter, and he takes a chance. We’ll have to play against him as a team and get him to play with his back to goal as much as possible.
“Details will be the difference,” Ciman continued. “Concentration will be crucial. We can’t make the same mistakes as last week.”
This, in essence, has been the message from the Montreal camp all week: let’s play like we did in the second half.
The Impact’s first half against Toronto was sloppy. Upward movement was laborious, while TFC had all the time in the world to create several chances. Montreal, as Hassoun Camara remarked, “lacked aggression in the first period.”
“When we started defending proactively, we were much more dangerous, and it led us to more dangerous situations up top,” Camara said. “We’ll need that same energy from the very beginning.”
Added left back Donny Toia: “[In the] second half, we came out a totally different team. We were pressing them the first 10-15 minutes, and that’s how we got our goals. If we do that, we can definitely capitalize.”
By most accounts, interim head coach Mauro Biello’s halftime talk revitalized the Impact. As Toia pointed out, it showed early on. Not only did Montreal execute their game plan better, but their attitude also improved.
After that game, Biello lamented his team’s timidity on the field early on. On Wednesday, Ciman echoed those comments, explaining that the team had “self-doubted” and “put pressure” on itself in the first half.
“We doubted a little bit,” Ciman said. “We didn’t want to lose. So we forgot to play ball and only sent long balls forward to Didier, who was left alone a little bit. We have to play our game. We’re at home, in pretty much a full stadium. We can be confident, and we can't be self-doubting.”
The result, in the second half, was a more balanced performance. Montreal successfully covered the width of the field – thanks in large part to Dilly Duka – Giovinco was largely neutralized and Michael Bradley’s influence on the game waned.
Montreal’s second-half performance was probably their best effort against Bradley, who always seems to excel against the Impact.
“He’s a good, physical guy, as you know,” Dominic Oduro said. “He likes to run a lot. He covers a whole lot of ground for them. We’re trying, as much as possible, to put a little bit of pressure on them, so that we can win the ball as fast as we can and counter – we’re a good counterattacking team.
“But again, we also know what’s at stake for them, too,” he continued. “So I’m sure that they’re going to come out strong. But we just have to eliminate their running around us in the middle as much as possible. We're trying to stay compact, as high as possible, and then when we get the ball, we just do our thing like we’ve been doing so far.”