Montreal Impact vs. Baltimore Crystal Palace

Disappointing…frustrating…worrying…did I mention disappointing? These are all words that can be used to describe the Montreal Impact's performance Sunday afternoon against an expansion team and one of the weaker teams in the USSF – Division 2 league – the Baltimore Crystal Palace. I think the fans on hand (less in attendance than the announced sell out) were expecting a better effort from their team. But it seems like recent changes have not really as of yet changed the character of the Montreal Impact.

We are halfway through the season and the Impact team that began it is very different from the team today. Gone are striker Roberto Brown, who was released by the team last week, fullbacks Stefano Pesoli (Italy) and Cedric Joqueviel (France) went back to their home countries, and injured are starting keeper Matt Jordan (groin), fullback Adam Braz (hip) and fullback Stephen deRoux (cheek). Added to the roster is midfielder Kevin Cossette (from farm team Trois Rivieres Atttak) and fullback Barney Bonheur Aubry. Signed within the last week are two familiar faces to Impact fans: striker Ali Gerba and midfielder Antonio Ribeiro. Also keeper Dominic Provost is being dressed as a back up. In addition to all this, the Impact also have two players, striker Jawad El Hajri of Morocco and defender Wesley Charles of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on tryout with them.

That is plenty of changes and I think an indication of a team that is not living up to expectations. Coach Dos Santos and technical advisor Nick DeSantis have shown that they are not afraid to get rid of anyone who is not doing what is expected of them (Brown) and bring in new (or old) faces. They obviously felt that the team needed a shaking up to try and save a season that is in risk of going down the drain.

Montreal is two games into a four game homestand and to make a serious move up in the standings you'd think they'd have to earn nine out of a possible twelve points. Things started off well with a 1-0 victory last Wednesday over the Carolina RailHawks. The Impact were looking to continue that positive play in their game versus the Baltimore Crystal Palace. Baltimore is new to the league and Montreal was playing their first game ever against them.

The Impact are in 3rd place in the NASL conference with 20 points and Baltimore is in 4th place just 4 points behind the Impact, so this was an important game for the two sides. It was a match up between two sides that have trouble scoring. Baltimore has only scored 13 goals in 16 games this season (tied with St. Louis for last place). Making things more difficult for them would be the fact that their leading scorer, Randi Patterson, will not be playing versus Montreal due to a red car in his previous match. Offensively Montreal is not much better with 14 goals in 16 games (with 19 goals against that leaves them at -5). Midfielder Tony Donatelli is their leading scorer with 4 goals. There has only been 2 goals scored all season by Impact strikers (1- Brown and 1 – Peter Byers). Even the substitutes have scored 6 goals. The strikers must provide more for the team.

I'm sure his team's lack of scoring punch was on Coach Mark Dos Santos's mind when he drew up the team's formation. Montreal went with an aggressive 4-3-3 formation in order to really give numbers to their attack. Byers, Rocco Placentino and Redo Agourram started the game up front.

That offensive oriented formation seem to work in the early stages of this game. By the 2nd minute Montreal already had a sniff on goal, but fullback Philippe Billy's shot was right at Baltimore's keeper Evan Bush and it was a routine save. The Impact kept pressing the ball forward and were rewarded in the 4th minute. Midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo, starting in his 100th game for the club, notched his first goal of the season in a flashy way. Di Lorenzo was able to squeeze by two Baltimore defenders, Dan Lader and Korey Veeder, before roofing the ball from in close past a helpless Bush. 1-0 Montreal and the game was only 4 minutes old. That was encouraging! But wait for it….

Baltimore comes close a couple of times in the 7th and 8th minute where Djekanovic is forced to go to ground to make a good save at the left post off a Takuro Nishimura volley from in close. The Impact, especially Placentino, have a couple of chances, but nothing clear cut. They are playing well, controlling the ball and pushing it forward, but not creating clear cut chances. Several of the Impact's chances come as a result of Billy's nice passes or crosses. Unfortunately they cannot get on the end of them.

It seemed like we were going to go into half with Montreal maintaining their 1-0 lead, but then a major breakdown occurred. In the 45th minute Baltimore was awarded a free kick from 40 yards out. Agourram looks like he is going to clear it when he is flagrantly knocked down from behind by Andrew Marshall. Referee David Barrie, who had a very spotty game if I am to be generous, allowed play to continue. There was no whistle, but the Impact players, including keeper Djekanovic, stopped playing and striker Gary Brooks was allowed to take a clear shot on net. He cleanly beat Djekanovic, who never even moved, to his right. This was a save Djekanovic had to make, but didn't. A big let down. A 1-1 scoreline and a rough end to the half for Montreal.

Coming out of half time the Impact could not be discouraged as they had played a decent half and just a missed call and then a mental lapse on their part led to a goal for Baltimore. They had to stick to the game plan of pushing the ball forward and creating chances on net.

Dos Santos was not going to wait and made some changes right off the bat in the 2nd half. The Impact started off with Ali Gerba coming in for Peter Byers and Eduardo Sebrango coming in for Rocco Placentino. That meant a lot of experience for Montreal up front. The two veterans would play in the middle with Agourram playing out wide. The Sebrango-Gerba pairing almost paid off right away. In the 48th minute Gerba curled in a ball that keeper Bush got to just before Sebrango.

More bad news for the Impact was that goal scorer Di Lorenzo, who had suffered a hard challenge by Brooks (who was shown a yellow on the play) in the latter stages of the 1st half, was hobbling around to begin the 2nd half. He had to be substituted early on and Patrick Leduc came on in the 54th minute. The injury to Di Lorenzo is said to be his left calf. Hopefully it is not serious.

From that point on and for most of the 2nd half, Baltimore dominated play. They were the ones looking for a second goal not the home side. And it happened for them in the 65th minute off a set piece. Adnato Neto took a free kick from 40 yards out that the Impact did not clear properly and the ball came back to fullback Shaun Pejic. His shot was deflected in by Andrew Marshall. The change of direction gave Djekanovic no chance.

For the remaining 25 minutes of play plus 6 added on minutes the Impact created some pressure, but no clear chances. Frustration reared its ugly head when in the 77th minute Baltimore's Takuro Nishimura got tangled up with Billy. Billy was shown a yellow card for his part in it. Players from both teams gathered around and their were some words and pushes exchanged, but nothing else really manifested.

Baltimore is not a fun team to play against. Players like Brooks and Nishimura played the ref for a fool by going down like they had been shot when they had not even been touched. He fell for it every time. More importantly the Impact let this play acting get to them and showed their frustration. Even a veteran like Sebrango had a few words with Brooks the first time he went down in his own 18 yard box holding his face though no one had touched him. The Impact have to ignore that sort of stuff. On the other hand, referees cannot let these things happen and have to punish the play actors.

This was a tough loss. The Impact have to do better, especially at home. They have to make better decisions (I mean you, Peter Byers) in the final third of the field. As they work hard to create scoring chances they cannot fritter them away. More than score more goals the team has to show more character. They cannot let poor officiating, unlucky goals or the other team's antics get to them. Remain focused, lads! They have to show the desire and heart to come back from setbacks within a game.

Montreal's next game is once again at home on Wednesday evening against St. Louis. Again with this game 3 points is a must.

Game Stats:
-On Field Officials: Referee: David Barrie
Linesmen: Oscar Mitchell Carvalho and Richard Gamache
-Goals: 1st Half:
4th minute – Montreal – Leonardo Di Lorenzo assisted by Tony Donatelli
45th minute – Baltimore – Gary Brooks assisted by Andrew Marshall
2nd Half:
65th minute – Baltimore – Andrew Marshall assisted by Shaun Pejic
9th minute – Baltimore – Dan Lader – yellow
42nd minute – Baltimore – Gary Brooks – yellow
59th minute – Montreal – Reda Agoura – yellow
77th minute – Montreal – Philippe Billy – yellow
90th minute – Baltimore – Evan Bush – yellow
-Shots: Montreal: 16
Baltimore: 11
-Saves: Montreal: 4
Baltimore: 8
-Corners: Montreal: 3
Baltimore: 1
-Setanta Man of the Match: Philippe Billy
-Attendance: 13, 034 (sell out)
-Final Score: Montreal: 1
Baltimore: 2

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