Home opener! This was the 3rd game of the season for the Montreal Impact and their first home game. All is well as the team won their first two game and they are on top of the East Conference. Montreal had been named one of the teams to watch this season. Even with that I don’t think anyone thought the season would start off this well.
First year coach Marco Schällibaum has instilled some changes with the Impact. The Jesse Marsch system was a 4-2-3-1 formation last year. Schällibaum has changed it up to a 4-1-4-1. This seems to be working well with the type of players he has. There is less space between midfielders and defenders. This makes it much easier to defend. Offensively new midfielders Andres Romero and Andrea Pisanu give the team a new look with their wide play and good passing.
Montreal versus Toronto is any sport is an epic battle as the two cities take it very seriously. Showing how important a Montreal-Toronto game is 3,000 Toronto FC supporters made the trip to urge on their team. All through the game there was plenty of atmosphere in the Stadium and towards the end of the game it was especially noisy. The home side was not the only one coming into the game on a winning note. Toronto had won their last game against Kansas City. The 2012 MLS season was a difficult on against Toronto for the Impact. The 2013 one sees a more Montreal side. They have some great leaders. Keeper Troy Perkins is really a calming effect on the team. Alessandro Nesta is a general in the back.
Several debuts happened on this afternoon. For what has been dubbed the 401 Derby (Montreal vs. Toronto) the Impact debut their new third uniform which is a black and blue stripe affair a la Inter Milan. Another debut for the team was the first start of Andres Romero. Romero is fast and reads the play very well. He is making the start as the left midfielder. Lastly, the game was played on a new synthetic surface at the Olympic Stadium, which is good as the old turf was worn.
Based on how successful it was in their last game, Toronto was really trying to put pressure on Montreal and challenging every ball. Montreal handled it pretty well and they actually had the first good scoring chance of the game. After just a couple of minutes Romero had an impact on the game. Romero took a long ball down the side line and headed the ball back towards the top of the 18 yard box where striker Marco Di Vaio cracked a one-time shot with the outside of his foot that forced Toronto keeper Joe Bendik to parry away a ball from the top corner of the far side of the net.
Early on in the game Montreal had something happened that could have been a major setback for the team. In the 12th minute Nesta was forced to leave the game after he twinged his groin. Later after he left he sat on the bench with ice on his leg. Let’s hope it is not a serious injury. Dennis Iapichino came in for Nesta.
Both Patrice Bernier and Di Vaio ended up scoring their first goals of the season against Toronto. Bernier scored in his favourite way via the penalty kick. In the 32nd minute Montreal was awarded a penalty kick when defender Ashtone Morgan pushed down Romero from behind inside the box. Romero had been sprung via a nice ball from Bernier. The assistant referee called the penalty kick right away. Bernier was charged with taking the kick and scored in the 34th minute using his habitual stutter step strike. He now has a streak of 7-for-7 on penalty kick attempts.
The goal seemed to unsettle the Toronto side and Montreal took advantage by doubling their advantage in the 1st minute of added on time in the 1st half. Two great balls in row led to the Di Vaio goal. Starting it off once again was Bernier who found a streaking Davy Arnaud in the middle of the field. He then placed a perfectly weighted through ball between two Toronto defenders for Di Vaio to run onto. He calmly went around Bendik and then put it into the deserted net.
To their credit Toronto did not roll over and surrender. For first part of the 2nd half they really upped their game and put a lot of pressure on Montreal. It was not a good start for Montreal. A real close call for them happened in the 52nd minute when Perkins uncharacteristically gave the ball away. Perkins made up for his error by coming up with a big save. A half volley by Hogan Ephraim was just barely deflected onto the crossbar by the Impact keeper.
Amazingly another penalty kick was awarded. This time it went to Toronto. In a foul that occurred off the ball Iapichino got tangled up with Toronto midfielder Terry Dunfield. It is something that happens a couple of times a game and usually isn’t called, but this time the referee felt it warranted a penalty kick. Welsh striker Robert Earnshaw, scoring his 3rd of the early season, halved the Montreal lead in 68th minute by driving the penalty low to the right of Perkins. It was shaping up to be a very interesting last 20 minutes.
Montreal was allowing Toronto to take the play to them, which is pretty dangerous. The agony was prolonged as 4 minutes were added on. Getting their act together Montreal played the perfect last 4 minutes. Substitute Sanna Nyassi did yeoman’s work keeping possession of the ball and even drawing a foul.
Montreal is now the only team in the East with a perfect record. The next game for the Impact will be next Saturday, March 23 in Montreal against Thierry Henry and his New York Red Bulls (0-1-2).
-Referee: Baldomero Toledo
-Goals: 1st Half:
34th minute – Montreal – (pk) Patrice Bernier
45 +1 minute – Montreal – Marco Di Vaio assisted by Davy Arnaud and Patrice Bernier
68th minute – Toronto – (pk) Robert Earnshaw
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 7
Toronto – 3
-Corners: Montreal – 1
Toronto – 5
-Player of the Match: Patrice Bernier
-Final Score: Montreal – 2
Toronto – 1