MLS is Back Tournament: Montreal Impact vs New England – tactical analysis

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MLS is back, with a tournament in one place (Florida), so we can definitively say that football in the United States is back.

Montreal Impact and New England Revolution are two teams that will seek to be protagonists and that have in their ranks players of great quality. They have important people not only on the field but also on the bench. The Montreal Impact has the French coach Thierry Henry who had an impressive career playing in the best leagues in the world, with Arsenal in the Premier League, with Juventus in Italy’s Serie A, and with FC Barcelona in La Liga. Now he returns to MLS looking for revenge as a coach since in his first experience at the head of AS Monaco, he only stayed for 4 months.

He is with players who had come to reinforce the midfield of the team of Canada, such as former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Victor Wanyama and Saphir Taïder who comes from Bologna of Serie A. In addition to the young player from FC Barcelona, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, he will try to restore the prominence of his team.

On the other hand, the New England Revolution team’s coach is Bruce Arena, who was in charge of the U.S. National Team during the 2002 and 2006 World Cups in Korea-Japan and Germany, respectively. In MLS, Arena has won five championships and one of them in 1997 with his current club.

In this tactical analysis, we will try to explain the initial approaches of each team and how the Montreal Impact went from being a team dominated in the first half to taking possession of the ball in the second half with the tactical change made by their coach.

Let’s remember that these two teams faced each other in the first round of the league at the beginning of this year resulting in the victory of the Montreal Impact team 2-1. Now after more than four months of stoppage of activities, they finally met again.


Both teams returned to football with the same formations used in their league matches before being suspended.

The New England team were in a 4-2-3-1 that in goal presented Matt Turner, in the central defence were Antonio Mlinar Delamea and Michael Mancienne and the wings-back Brandon Bye on the right and Alexander Büttner on the left. A line ahead were the two defensive midfielders Scott Caldwell and Kelin Rowe and in attack were the forwards with a host of foreigners – the Spanish Carles Gil, the Argentinean Gustavo Bou, and the Ecuadorian Cristian Penilla accompanied by the Polish player who arrives as reinforcement for this tournament, Adam Buksa.

Montreal Impact used its usual training from the arrival of the new coach. In goal, Frenchman Clément Diop behind a defence made by three central defenders, Rod Fanni, Rudy Camacho, and Luis Binks. The wing-backs were Jukka Raitala and (in a surprisingly different position than usual) the Canadian Samuel Piett. In midfield was Victor Wanyama with Saphir Taïder. Orji Okwonkwo and Bojan Krkic were supporting on the sides the centre forward Maximiliano Urruti.

High pressure

From the beginning of the game, New England had the initiative to press from the goal, understanding that the elaboration from their field is one of the assignments of coach Henry. And this caused problems in the elaboration of offensive play to the Montreal Impact team that could not find that ball possession that makes them reach the opposition goal with more players.

With the ball control looking for spaces in the opposition defence, Montreal Impact in the first half did not find a way to get rid of the pressing made by New England Revolution, and this forced them to make a more direct game.

In the graph below, it is shown how the intensity of the pressing was very different from one team to another during the first and second half.

New England from the 15th minute of the first half and until the 30th minute of the second half made a much more intense pressing. During the first half on average, every 7.9 passes of the opposition team made a defensive action, not allowing long ball possessions.

While the Montreal Impact team allowed an average of 40.8 passes during the first half, which was a lot of time for the opposition team to find gaps in the defence.

Close to the end of the game in the last fifteen minutes with the score against them, Montreal Impact changed their tactics and made a higher pressure trying to steal the ball as soon as possible.

In the image above, we see the New England Revolution players were positioned far forward marking the probable opposition receivers and forcing them to go out with a long pass.

The pressure was on with centre forward Buksa and Spain’s Carles Gil on the central defenders, with Penilla on the left side going to mark the third central defender, and Rowe and Caldwell moving forward to cover the opposing defensive midfielders, while Bou kept a lookout for the opposing left wing-back.

This pressure did not allow the Montreal Impact to develop many offensive moves with an advantage for their players.

In contrast, the New England obtained the majority of the ball possession, although a large part of this was in their field (68%) as the Montreal Impact team decided to wait just ahead of their field.

With their wing-backs close to the lines and the two defensive midfielders dropping alternately, the team killed off control of the ball.

In the following image, you can see the area where the Montreal Impact team is waiting for their opponents to approach the midfield to start the pressure. Urruti was the most advanced player but in an impossible mission since he was between two or even three opponents.

This low pressure did not allow Montreal Impact to recover the ball near the opposition’s goal, having to advance many metres to be able to generate offensive plays.

In possession

As we observed in the previous section of this analysis, the ball possession of New England in the first half was superior to that of their opponents, this being allowed by the little pressure they exerted, allowing their attacking players to have the time to move and find interior spaces to try and hurt their opponent’s defence.

New England, at the moment of attack, positioned itself many times with two players behind the centre forward Buska. Either with Bou making a diagonal move towards the centre and the accompaniment of Carles Gil with the right wing-back Bye and midfielder Penilla on the left side, or with Carles Gil playing on the right side and Penilla accompanying Bou behind the centre forward.

The following image shows Gil receiving the ball on the right side and passing it to Bou who, within the box, controls and in a movement eludes the rival defender to shoot with his left foot and score the goal.

While Montreal Impact suffered from high pressure especially in the first half, this was caused by Thierry Henry’s team not being able to find a good offensive position on the pitch.

With their formation of three central defenders and two wing-backs plus a line of four midfielders ahead of them, everything would indicate that they would have many players in the middle of the field.

As you can see in the image above, the attack from the left side was always very accompanied as they were positioned on the side, the centre, and the left wing-back as well as the midfielder one of the two defensive midfielders, and as if that wasn’t enough, the centre forward Urruti was also going to that same area. This led to the progress of the attacks, although they were not very effective.

However, the attack from the right side did not have the same accompaniment as with the tactical instruction to ask right wing-back, Piette, to position himself towards midfield, right midfielder Okwonkwo could not find anyone to partner with, having most of the chances to play 1 vs 1.

The graph above shows what has been explained. With a very similar number of arrivals from the sides, the level of danger from the right sector was extremely low, as the arrivals from the centre were the ones that caused more danger in the opposition goal.

Change for the better

At half-time, the Montreal Impact coach made a tactical change. He started with a 5-4-1 formation and changed in the second half to a 5-3-2 formation, and this adjustment worked very well for him since with his two centre forwards managed to stop the New England’s wing-backs from joining the attack.

But not only did he improve in the defensive part, by having these two players in the centre of the attack he managed to make a better pressure in the final third recovering the ball closer to the rival goal.

Along with the change of formation, another move that worked for Montreal Impact was to place the Canadian player Piette in midfield, who with his dynamic movements helped in the recovery of the ball.

The following image shows Montreal Impact performing better pressure.

The two centre-forwards put pressure on the central defenders and when the ball is passed to the defensive midfielder, the pressure is put on the player Piette by having the ball retrieved by midfielder Wanyama. This recovery close to the goal becomes a goal option when Piette makes a key pass to Urruti.

Although Montreal Impact improved their performance, New England did not make any adjustments in their formation which led them to lose possession of the ball (first half 54% – second half 38%) but their xG was increased due to the spaces they found mainly in midfield and in front of the line of the three central defenders.

In the following picture, Bou receives the ball in front of the defensive line.

The speed of New England’s offensive players caused a lot of problems for the whole defensive line.

In this other image, we see the problems that Montreal Impact had to defend against. Seven defensive players had to face only three opponents, and despite this numerical superiority, they were not able to coordinate their movements allowing the opposing players to gain possession of the ball and create goal scoring opportunities.


Both teams showed the lack of pace produced by the break due to the Covid-19, which no doubt this will have to change as the tournament progresses, but it was clear that coach Thierry Henry still does not find the desired performances from his team. Defensively he groups a good number of players near his box, however, and despite having in many occasions numerical superiority, they do not defend well and allow many opportunities on goal.

Initially, he maintained the formation used in the two league games and later changed the tactical system to play with two centre-forwards and three midfield players, which failed to produce the number of offensive opportunities and above all the balance needed to function properly.

For its part, New England Revolution maintained its intention to defend from the field by applying intense pressure and always looking to recover the ball soon. In the attack, the mobility and the association that Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil have found by exchanging their positions next to the arrival of the wing-backs and the depth that gives Penilla by the left sector makes of this equipment an aspirant to arrive at the finals of this tournament.