There is little doubt about the standout performance from Canada's three MLS teams over the weekend. Montreal Impact's 3-1 win at home to Eastern Conference leaders New York Red Bulls leaves the expansion team five points outside the playoff places.
A couple of Montreal's new additions shone at Stade Saputo as Jesse Marsch's men looked far from a first-year side. The team came together to provide a fairly complete performance which combined solid defending with free flowing attacking soccer. The result was the Impact's best performance of the season.
Marco Di Vaio scored his first goal in Major League Soccer and with each passing game looks to be finding his feet in his new home. Di Vaio's intelligent thinking and vision has been clear to see during his eight appearances since joining Montreal, but now the understanding is growing between him and his teammates.
Di Vaio's fellow Italian Alessandro Nesta made his first league start for the Impact. Despite not quite being at full fitness, Nesta showed the quality you would expect from someone of his calibre. He started alongside fit-again Nelson Rivas at the back and it seemed his calmness settled the whole team down. The Impact also have Matteo Ferrari available again, and all of a sudden after a few weeks where injuries have been an issue at the back, Marsch now finds himself with three of league's top defenders to call upon.
While the night of firsts for Di Vaio and Nesta grabbed the headlines, a comment from New York's Thierry Henry caught my attention. He said despite the star power within Montreal's line-up, it is Canadian Patrice Bernier who is Montreal's most influential player by some way. It's hard to disagree of Bernier's importance to the team. Since returning to the Impact after a decade playing in Europe, Bernier has six goals and five assists, but beyond the stats, he's really proving to be the heartbeat of the team in midfield.
Bernier's play isn't just good news for Montreal. After being left out of Canada's squad for the last round of matches in World Cup Qualifying he has played himself into contention for a recall to Stephen Hart's squad for the matches coming up in September.
The Case For The Defence
In the press conference following Saturday's defeat to Houston, Toronto FC coach Paul Mariner was once again asked about signing a new defender. He responded by saying that the search goes on but that he hoped to conclude it in the next 48 hours.
Mariner explained that he could have signed many defenders over recent weeks, but is waiting for the right one. He says he's in this for the long haul and wants to ensure he gets it right. Just a couple of weeks ago, Mariner reportedly close to adding two central defenders with international experience, but the club fell short in being able to close those deals and seemingly had to turn attention elsewhere, slowing down the process of adding the most important piece needed in their team.
However, defensive improvement isn't just about central defenders. The first goal scored by Houston was about missed marking assignments on a corner. The way the Dynamo were able to get two free headers on the play was concerning, but leaving Calen Carr unmarked at the back post to head home from close range was inexcusable.
After three wins in a row, TFC's performance at BMO Field on Saturday was a major letdown. Mariner admitted Houston were by far the better side. Unfortunately for Toronto supporters, their team just didn't show up against the Dynamo.
Whitecaps Undone In Rockies
Toronto FC isn't the only club looking for a defender. Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie is keen to add depth to his backline, and Friday's defeat at Real Salt Lake was evidence of why that is necessary.
After playing in the home win over San Jose the previous Sunday, then 90 minutes in the MLS All-Star match last Wednesday in Philadelphia, it looked like a step too far for 'Caps captain Jay DeMerit to be back on the pitch dealing with the heat and altitude of Salt Lake just 48 hours later.
The Whitecaps shouldn't have been put in a position to have their Captain running on empty in a game on the road against a team above them in the standings. MLS All-Star coach Ben Olsen should have adhered to Martin Rennie's request to just play DeMerit for 45 minutes. The Salt Lake match shouldn't have been scheduled for two days after All-Star. However, Vancouver had to deal with the adversity and DeMerit paid the price. It's a disappointing situation for Rennie to have to deal with, but not something he will use as an excuse.
The 'Caps certainly had plenty of chances to take something from the match. Barry Robson excelled again in midfield with his impressive range of passing. Just as they had done in the previous home match, Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards caused plenty of problems for the opposition defence with their lightening pace.
This Whitecaps team has a different feel about it now. They have the quality to be able to win any match in MLS. Earlier in the season, their attacking play wasn't quite where it needed to be. Whilst being solid defensively, there were many times when they didn't create enough going forward. The 'Caps current run sees them playing five of six matches against teams that currently occupy the Western Conference playoff places with them.
They started the run with a tie against LA in a match they should have won. They then beat leaders San Jose at BC Place, and against Salt Lake on Friday, probably deserved to have taken a point. It's a far cry from last year's
expansion season. They are now an entertaining team to watch at home or away.