Montreal Impact vs. Portland Timbers

New captain Nevio Pizzolitto demonstrated right off the bat that he takes his leadership role very seriously as his late goal earned his team their first point of the 2010 season. On this bright and sunny late April (early for an Impact home opener) afternoon a sold-out crowd greeted the reigning champions. A nice pre-game ceremony that acknowledged the Montreal Impact as the USL-1 2009 champions and paid tribute to 8 Canadian Olympians from Vancouver 2010 (including Tania Vicent, Charline Labonte and Caroline Ouellette) delayed kickoff until 2:22 p.m.

This was an important game for the Impact as they had lost their first game of the season 1-0 to the Austin Aztec and certainly did not want to get off to a 0-2 start. Portland would be a tough test for Montreal as they were the 1st place team during the regular season of the USL-1 league last year.

Several Impact players would be making their home debuts for the team including Felipe Soares, Reda Agourram and Philippe Billy. Simon Gatti and Stefano Pesoli were on the sidelines both suffering from ankle injuries. Newcomer Tyler Hemming also wasn't dressed.

Peter Byers and rookie Agourram were starting in the striker positions with Byers definitely being the primary target up front. All the probing balls were played into space for him to use his speed to run on to and several chances were created this way. Former Trois Rivières Attak player Agourram had a little more difficult an afternoon as he is still feeling things out up front.

Both teams were playing very cautiously and chances to score for either side were few and far between. You could tell that it was going to take an incredible individual play or a mistake by the defense in order for a goal to be scored. For instance, the Impact were collectively holding their breath when defender Stephen deRoux took a risk in the 15th minute and lost his man Brian Farber, who crossed the ball into the box. The Timbers' George Jostens' shot from just outside the 6 yard box was partially blocked by the Impact's David Testo and finally gathered in by keeper Matt Jordan. There was plenty of yelling at his defenders from Mr. Intense (Jordan) after that play.

Speaking of David Testo, he is a wonder in the defensive or holding midfielder position for the Impact. If ever an important tackle is needed he is there. The guy is so steady and does so much running, but never tires. He also is very smart with the ball and starts many a counterattack for the Impact.

The Impact dominated the game in terms of ball possession, but could rarely find chinks in the strong Timbers defense. A couple of times it looked like Byers or Agourram had gotten free only to have Timbers' defenders like Steve Purdy or James Marcelin made a well-calculated sliding tackle.

At the 49th minute the Timbers won a corner and looked like they had a sure goal when Purdy came up and headed the ball towards what seemed like the empty side of the Impact net, but midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo, who was stationed on the far post, blocked the shot with his face. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. The Impact had dodged a rather large bullet.

It was a very physically played game with Impact defender Adam Braz often being in the middle of anything like that. Several yellow cards were handed out to each side for late or careless tackles.

In the 67th minute the Impact committed defensive errors that allowed the Timbers to take a 1-0 lead. Even though coach Marc Dos Santos had warned his players that Timbers leading scorer Ryan Pore (4 goals in 3 games) did not like to stay along the left side as he is right footed, so to watch for him cutting into the middle. Well, that is exactly what he did and Testo and Pizzolitto both missed tackles on him. This left him alone in the 18 yard box to take a shot and he made no mistake stroking a low ball into the left corner that Jordan had no chance on.

A 1-0 lead in a game like this with just over 20 minutes to play is huge. It was hard enough to penetrate the Timbers' defense when the game was scoreless, but with them in the lead you would think it would become next to impossible.

Luck was with the home side and they were able to tie up the score with 10 minutes remaining. Just after Pore's goal Dos Santos took Agourram out and replaced him with veteran striker Roberto Brown. It turned out to be a good move as Brown created the penalty shot that allowed Pizzolitto to knot up the score. In the 80th minute as a result of a dubious call on a Timbers' defender a penalty shot was called for the Impact. Calmly, captain Pizzolitto had goaltender Steve Cronin guessing the wrong way and drilled a shot into the left side of the net.

A 1-1 tie is better than a loss, but the Impact have to come away from the game a little upset. They dominated ball control, but could not create any clear scoring chances. The home side did not impose their game on the visitors. It was a hard played game, but the Impact, if they have hopes of repeating as champions, have to learn how to win this type of close match.

Game Stats:
-Officials: Referee: John Oliva
Linesmen: Andy Foster and Mathieu Bourdeau
-Goals: 2nd Half:
67th minute – Portland – Ryan Pore assisted by Mamadou Danso
81st minute – Montreal – (pk) Nevio Pizzolitto
Cards:
22nd minute – Portland – Steve Purdy – yellow
43rd minute – Montreal – Felipe Soares – yellow
45th minute – Montreal – Nevio Pizzolitto – yellow
65th minute – Montreal – Adam Braz – yellow
65th minute – Portland – Ryan Pore – yellow
70th minute – Montreal – David Testo – yellow
74th minute – Portland – James Marcelin – yellow
79th minute – Portland – Kirk Quavas – yellow
-Shots: Montreal: 7
Portland: 6
-Saves: Montreal: 3
Portland: 1
-Corners: Montreal: 5
Portland: 3
-Attendance: 13,034
-Final Score: Montreal: 1
Portland: 1

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