The first sell-out at the expanded Saputo Stadium, the first game for Italian star defender Alessandro Nesta and the first time for former French national player at Saputo Stadium. There were plenty of first and the atmosphere was crackling on a beautiful evening in Montreal. It would become an evening of more firsts, but first things first.
The players on the Impact had two big tasks on their hands. First, they had to defeat the first place in the Eastern Division Thierry Henry led New York Red Bulls and second with all the atmosphere they had to keep their heads. Turns out that the expansion team was going to accomplish both.
Not only was this going to be former AC Milan star Nesta’s first regular season game with the Impact (he is probably already competing with Patrice Bernier and Marco Di Vaio as the most popular player on the team) it was to be his first game leading the team’s defence from the central defense position. He would be teamed with Nelson Rivas (also his first game back from an abdominal injury) in central defense and joined by Hassoun Camara and Jeb Brovsky on the wings. These four men made all the difference and I suspect that it was due to the leadership, game knowledge and direction of Nesta.
The defense, aided by midfielders Bernier and Collen Warner, performed the big task of shutting down the striker trio of Henry, Kenny Cooper and Sebastien Le Toux. Together these three players have scored 11, 13 and 5 goals respectively which adds up to 29 of the Red Bulls’ 38 goals so far this season. Shut them down and you have a good chance of winning. While they did not completely shut them down they did limit them. The big battle was billed as Nesta versus Henry, a battle between two men who have won World Cups. While Nesta did not go up against Henry all too often (that was left up to Rivas) he did come out on top.
Montreal won the game 3-1 and pretty much dominated. They created a lot of chances while limiting New York to a scant 3 top notch scoring chances. Another star of the game (and he was rewarded with the Videotron Man of the Match) was midfielder Felipe. He earned 3 assists, one on each of the Montreal goals, and was all over the field in the 2nd half.
The first half saw Montreal control possession of the ball for the most part early on. That confidence and nice passing came from the back. The defenders quickly gained the ball back from New York and then started off the offence. They moved the ball around nicely. Finding Bernier to launch the attack and moving the ball from side to side looking for a chink in the New York defensive armour. They did not break through for a goal, but fans were hopeful as the team created chances for Justin Mapp, Felipe and Di Vaio through the first 45 minutes.
For New York they only had one true scoring chance in the first 45 and it was a doozy. After fumbling the ball a couple of times on routine shots that were right at him, Impact keeper Donovan Ricketts came up with a brilliant save off of Cooper from in close. In the 33rd minute the ball came to Cooper off a scramble and Ricketts had to make a great reflex, diving save to keep the score 0-0.
Fans had barely retaken their seats for the start of the 2nd half when Marco Di Vaio scored. It was a classic striker goal in he accepted the pass from Felipe, lifted his head and then slotted a low strike beyond a diving Bill Gaudette to the far side. You could see how relieved Di Vaio was to score his first goal and the crowd went wild. It was a long time coming and hopefully that opens the flood gates for the Italian native.
The celebration of the first goal had not really ended when the captain Davy Arnaud scored the Impact’s 2nd goal in the 50th minute. Felipe once again constructed the goal by chipping a ball over the Red Bull defense and found a streaking Arnaud, who like Di Vaio lifted his head and calmly placed the ball beyond Gaudette’s reach. It was now a party for the sold out crowd.
Party time was tempered a little when Henry, who had been invisible for most of the game, managed to get loose right outside the 6 yard box and waited out Ricketts, who came out to cut down the angle. The man who has scored hundreds of goals showed his touch by calmly placing the ball over Ricketts’ shoulder.
Despite the fact that New York had crept to within 1 goal, Montreal under the veteran leadership in central defense did not panic. They continued to create offense, shut down that of the Red Bulls and scored that all important goal that put them up by 2 once again.
Once again Felipe found a streaking Montreal player. He received a pass from Di Vaio and then played a through ball to his left to the speedy Sanna Nyassi, who came into the game in the 61st minute for Mapp. Nyassi dribbled around Gaudette and managed to get the ball into the open net from a severe angle near the goal line. The goal came in the 74th minute.
The party was back on and the fans were joyful, supportive and loud. It really was a great atmosphere. A friend from out of town asked if all the MLS games had such great atmosphere. I am not sure as Montreal crowds are special.
This was Montreal’s 3rd home victory in a row and hopefully the beginning of nice winning streak for the team. Next up for the Impact is the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, August 4th at Saputo Stadium.
-On-Field Officials: Referee: Abiodun Okulaja
-Goals: 2nd Half:
-48th minute: Montreal – Marco Di Vaio assisted by Justin Mapp and Felipe
-50th minute: Montreal – Davy Arnaud assisted by Felipe
-57th minute: New York – Thierry Henry assisted by Roy Miller and Joel Lindpere
-74th minute: Montreal – Sanna Nyassi assisted by Felipe and Marco Di Vaio
-Shots: Montreal: 5
New York: 4
-Saves: Montreal: 3
New York: 2
-Corners: Montreal: 5
New York: 1
-Cards: Montreal: Yellow – Patrice Bernier – 27th minute, Marco Di Vaio – 71st minute
New York: Yellow – Roy Miller – 71st minute, Thierry Henry – 73rd minute, Dax McCarty – 83rd minute
-Finals Score: Montreal: 3
New York: 1