After watching Montreal playmaker Ignacio Piatti record a goal and three assists in a weekend win over New England -- resulting in MLS Player of the Week honors -- Fire rookie midfielder Mo Adams was given a not-so-simple assignment for Wednesday's matchup with the Impact: follow Piatti all over the field and take him out of the game.
Where many have tried and failed in MLS over the years, Adams succeeded at Toyota Park, minimizing Piatti's influence as part of a commendable team defensive effort by the home side. And after limiting Montreal to two shots on goal and just 37 percent possession for the night, the Fire walked away with all three points thanks to an 89th-minute game-winner from a seemingly unlikely source in defender Kevin Ellis.
For head coach Veljko Paunović, Adams' commitment to and execution of the gameplan stood out on a night full of workmanlike individual performances by the Fire.
“What he did was a work of art," Paunović said. "He showed probably the entire world how to defend a player of that class. A player of that talent. Someone who at any moment can change the game and with the constant hard work, the effectiveness, and the dedication, Mo gave a great example to the rest of his teammates and to, perhaps, the rest of the teams in the league. It's not easy to defend Piatti. Piatti is a great player."
Though new to MLS, Adams is now no stranger to the chore of defending top attacking talent. His first three MLS starts and appearances found him in similar situations against dynamic standouts from the New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC and, just four days earlier, Atlanta United FC. It also helps that his experience in the role even pre-dates his arrival to the pro scene.
"That's been a position I've played even coming through college, that defensive midfield role," he said. "I was also tasked as a freshman and sophomore [at Syracuse University] in marking some of the best players in the country, so I think it's no different. I know what they can do, I watch film of the players from the night before, same with [Miguel] Almirón last week and Piatti today, obviously. But you can't just say just because I shut down Piatti, this was it. I think the whole team put a shift in, like Kevin Ellis once again getting a goal and winning the game, a very crucial game indeed."
Even for Ellis -- who's now bagged memorable goals in back-to-back games -- the collective defensive effort was the lasting takeaway from Wednesday's shift.
"We wanted to get a shutout and we got a shutout," Ellis said. "I give credit to Mo Adams, taking one of the best players in the entire league and not giving him any joy in the game. Big credit to Mo, big credit to the whole team for working hard defensively."
In securing their third win of the season, the Fire (3-4-2, 11 pts.) leap-frogged Montreal (3-7-0, 9 pts.) in the table and now stand three points behind New England for the final playoff spot in a competitive Eastern Conference. Last September, it was a 1-0 road win in Montreal that sparked a critical run of six results in seven games for the Fire, and Paunović is optimistic that Wednesday's 1-0 victory over the Impact can trigger a similar stretch in the weeks ahead, beginning Saturday at Columbus (6:30 PM CT, ESPN+).
"It was very important that we could win the three points today also because the progression we had in the last month was huge," Paunović said. "The confidence and building good momentum, especially here at home, winning the games and playing good matches. It's not the same when you're tired and win, obviously, than when you lose. So definitely it's going to help us to prepare for the next game. To recover the guys earlier and get them ready for another match. You have only tonight to celebrate and to enjoy it. Tomorrow starts a new day and a new game.”