The Montreal Impact are in uncharted territory. For the first time in the club’s MLS history, they’ve made it to the conference finals where they will face Canadian rivals Toronto FC. It’s a mouthwatering clash that figures to have plenty of drama over both legs.
A multitude of players will undoubtedly have their chance to help lead their respective side to victory and the MLS Cup appearance that comes with it. Some will be expected to do so, such as the Impact’s dynamic number ten, Ignacio Piatti. But there are always those under the radar types you don’t expect to play a part who indelibly make their mark.
Johan Venegas might fall into that category.
Johan Venegas a Potential X-Factor for the Montreal Impact
Now it must be said that Venegas contributed minimally to the Impact this year. The Costa Rican attacking midfielder made just nine regular season starts and played in less than 25 percent of Montreal’s overall minutes. In that time, he found the net just once. It came on September 28th in a 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
Even in the postseason up to this point, his impact has been limited. Though Venegas played in every game, he’s come on as a sub in all three. And he’s played in a mere 30 minutes of action thus far.
An initial perusal of those numbers makes the prospect of Venegas being an X-factor sound presumptuous at best. But something happened between the Impact’s win over the New York Red Bulls and their forthcoming showdown with TFC. Namely, Venegas played fantastically for his country in World Cup qualifying.
Impressive Outing for “Los Ticos”
Fans of the USMNT probably want to forget some of Venegas’ exploits for Costa Rica. It was his 44th minute goal that opened up the scoring for the Ticos last Tuesday. He demonstrated that if you give him time and space to finish, he’ll take full advantage.
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) November 16, 2016
That goal is a prime example of a talented attacking player feasting off poor marking. US defender John Anthony Brooks was highly lackadaisical in closing down Venegas and preventing him from getting a head on Christian Bolaños‘ cross. It turned out to be the beginning of a miserable and forgettable night for the Americans.
And that wasn’t the only time Venegas flat out embarrassed Brooks. Anybody up for some fresh nutmeg? Watch and observe below.
— Ben Jata (@Ben_Jata) November 16, 2016
Against the Yanks, Costa Rica head coach Oscar Ramirez deployed Venegas as a lone center forward in a 5-4-1. At times, he dropped deep and operated almost as a false nine. So tactical acuity and a high overall soccer IQ are qualities he possesses.
How Should the Impact Use Him
It’s not a secret that Montreal is incredibly deep at the number nine role. Not only do they have Didier Drogba, but summer transfer window acquisition Matteo Mancosu has proven quite valuable. The loanee from Serie A club Bologna already has three goals in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Irrespective of the form Venegas is in for his country, it’s not likely that Impact manager Mauro Biello would go away from Drogba or Mancosu up top. But that’s not to say that Venegas won’t get utilized elsewhere on the pitch. The highly versatile attacker is also capable of contributing as a wide player.
A potential scenario could see Venegas coming on as a second half sub, replacing either Dominic Oduro or Patrice Bernier. If the latter is involved, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in the postseason. Last year in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semis against Columbus Crew SC, Bernier came off for Venegas in the 73rd minute. Four minutes later, this happened.
Though Columbus eventually prevailed in that series, it just goes to show what Venegas is capable of. With Montreal expected to sit deep and hit on the counter against Toronto, his speed on the ball could be a vital asset. And what he’s done at international level recently suggests he’s ready to break out for his club.