Wednesday February 25th, 2015

The Montreal Impact made Major League Soccer’s 2015 competitive debut in the wake of contentious collective bargaining agreement talks with a difficult draw at Pachuca on Tuesday. With the result, Montreal gave itself a chance to win the team's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series with just a draw in the home leg.

The Impact took the lead against the run of play when Dilly Duka slotted home a shot from outside the area in the 25th minute. Duka scored again just after the second half started, putting home a rebound from Justin Mapp.

After two Montreal strikes, Pachuca woke up, scoring twice in 10 minutes to draw level. After that, Montreal clung on for a draw with its two away goals in the bag, riding constant waves of Pachuca pressure to end the match at 2-2.

Here are three thoughts on the match:

Montreal's stout defense improved its counterattack

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The Impact announced its lineup as a 4-2-3-1 shape, but it looked more like a flat 4-4-2 in defense as wingers Duka and Mapp stayed level with the central midfielders, even dropping alongside the back line when the Pachuca fullbacks overlapped.

The wingers shuttled constantly between defense and attack, providing support in all phases and covering vast amounts of ground.

Pachuca couldn’t find an end product and was hampered by Montreal’s low block. After the first goal, the match progression was set: Pachuca would control possession and tempo, while Montreal would try to spring forward in transition moments. Montreal increased its lead in the same style, but Pachuca’s continual attacks finally paid off with two well-executed goals.

Expecting to keep Pachuca at bay always seemed far-fetched 

The home team threatened early without getting any clear chances, allowing Montreal to settle into the match, but Pachuca just needed something to fall its way to get going. Heriberto Olvera finally put away a brilliant free kick, curling it inside Evan Bush’s near post, just two minutes after Duka’s second goal. Los Tuzos drew inspiration from Olvera’s effort, finally attacking the Impact energetically.

The equalizing goal came in the 68th minute, after winger Hirving Lozano’s influence down the left flank. He crossed dangerously, and Bush could only parry it into the path of Ariel Nahuelpán, Pachuca’s leading scorer in Liga MX, for the easy tap-in. Another dangerous free kick from just outside the penalty area flew over the crossbar a couple minutes before the final whistle, marking Pachuca’s final serious effort of the match.

To advance, Montreal will have to play a different game at home

It’s hard to see any team winning the competition by playing on the counterattack throughout the knockout round, especially against some of CONCACAF’s more explosive attacks. Pachuca struggled to get anything going on Tuesday, and goalkeeper Óscar Pérez looked sluggish on both goals, but a challenging second leg awaits.

The one advantage of not playing regular-season matches yet is that the Impact shouldn’t be tired for the return match, and Pachuca will have to travel a long way to play for the second time in four days after a Liga MX clash on the road against Club Tijuana on Feb. 27. Montreal may have spent the last week in Mexico to acclimatize, but warm-weather teams generally have less trouble playing in the cold than vice versa. Rather than expect Pachuca to wilt in the cold, the Impact should use its freshness to its advantage.

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