We are getting to the nitty gritty part of the MLS regular season with only 6 games remaining for the Montreal Impact. In their 2nd season in the MLS the Impact have so far surpassed expectations. In their 1st season the team did well for an expansion team, but did not manage to make the playoffs. This season with a new coach, a couple new players and one year of MLS experience under their collective belts the team has ranked anywhere from 1st to 3rd place for most of the season. It looks like the team is going to at a minimum make the playoffs meaning finish in one of the top 5 places in the Eastern Division.
Montreal has fallen back into 3rd place in the East behind the New York Red Bulls and Kansas City. This game was critical for both sides. For Montreal, to keep them in contention for 1st place and for Chicago, who only had 5 games left, to get into the playoffs. Chicago was in 7th place coming into the game or two spots out of the playoffs. Montreal was 3-1-2 in their last 6 games going into this contest.
The position of left midfielder has been a problem for Montreal all season long. Several players have played there (Davy Arnaud, Sanna Nyassi, Andres Romero, Blake Smith, and Andreas Pisanu) with none of them playing well enough. The team needs better play from that position if they plan to go far in the playoffs. Searching for a solution to that problem Coach Marco Schallibaum was going to try out Andrew Wenger in that position. Wenger played in the game earlier in the week against CD Heredia and played well, so he was rewarded with a rare start by his coach. The thinking behind this is that his strength and speed would be assets playing there.
Other changes in the Montreal starting 11 were that Collen Warner and Davy Arnaud would be playing in the central midfield as Felipe was suspended for the game due to an accumulation of yellow cards. Veteran central defender Alessandro Nesta did not make the trip to Chicago with the team due to an injury so the inexperienced Wandrille Lefevre would be making the start in his place. Lefevre and Matteo Ferrari would have to play close attention to Mike Magee. Magee is dangerous with 16 goals this season. The other veteran central defender, Ferrari, would have to take charge and be the general in the back to help out his younger partner.
Despite the importance of the game for them the Impact came out really flat in the 1st half. The Fire had the run of play and created a few scoring chances. In the 15th minute midfielder Dilly Duka got off a shot from 23 yards out that Impact keeper Troy Perkins did well on as he gave up no rebound off the low, hard shot.
The lack of offense for Montreal was largely due to the lack of link ups between Montreal’s midfielders and lone striker Marco Di Vaio. Di Vaio is the league’s top scorer with 18 goals so far. Coach Schallibaum had chosen to go with the 4-1-4-1 formation. Despite his talent around the net he cannot do it all himself. With Felipe missing Di Vaio was not getting the service he’s become accustomed to. All this to say is that Montreal was not creating any scoring chances.
That held true until the 25th minute when a nice individual play by captain Davy Arnaud led to a goal by Di Vaio. Arnaud collected the ball about 35 yards out and dribbled towards the top of the Chicago 18 yard box. He played the ball off to Di Vaio. Di Vaio controlled the ball and held off a couple of Fire defenders with his body. He then poked the ball past Chicago keeper Sean Johnson with his left foot. It was the first Montreal chance on net in the game and they managed to score.
Perkins was tested again in the 31st minute. Chicago was awarded a free kick about 30 yards out in a central position. A dangerous area. It was taken be Magee, who curled it around the Montreal wall. Perkins managed to just barely get his fingers on it as he was diving to his left. The ensuing Chicago corner was cleared out of the box. In the 44th minute Perkins had to come up big again. Duka brought ball down to endline and then played it back to unmarked Magee at the top of the 6 yard box. Magee took a quick shot that was partially blocked by Lefevre and Perkins was able to grab shot.
Chicago was definitely the more dangerous of the two sides in the 1st half. Montreal was luck to be ahead at half. They had to take better care of ball in 2nd half as they were giving up the ball too often and cheaply in the 1st half. The 2nd half began as the 1st had ended with Chicago creating another scoring chance. In the 53rd minute they had a corner which Magee took. Somehow the diminutive Egidio Arévalo Rios was unmarked and got his head on it. Thankfully it was right at Perkins and he was able to make the stop on the goal line.
Soon after that chance Chicago tied up the score. In the 57th minute Magee beat Jeb Brovsky to a deflected ball inside the Montreal 18 yard box. The Montreal defense was asleep and Magee made them pay. Montreal was still struggling in the 2nd half. Schallibaum made a few substitutions with Wenger coming out and Maxim Tissot going in to shore up the defense. Then he took Justin Mapp out and put Romero on.
The changes did not help as it only took 3 minutes after they took place for Chicago to score a goal. Once again it was Magee. This time it was due to a brain cramp by usually steady keeper Perkins. Perkins got the ball played back to him and he played around with it too long. He coughed the ball up to the dangerous Magee, who just had to put it into the empty net. Perkins seemed to yell at his teammates after the goal, maybe thinking they did not give him pass options, but it was clearly his fault.
Down 2-1 on the road with just over 10 minutes left in the game, things went from bad to worse for Montreal. A penalty shot was called against Montreal. In the referees opinion he felt the Montreal keeper pulled down Patrick Nyarko, who had gone by Lefevre, inside the box. It was harsh as it seemed like Perkins hit the ball first. As Magee stepped up to take the penalty kick it seemed for all intents and purposes like after he scored that Montreal would be done for. Luck was on the side of the visitors as Magee went for power on his shot and found the crossbar.
Chicago had another chance to salt the game away in the 82nd minute when 2nd half substitute Chris Rolfe passed the ball to forward Juan Luis Arangono. His shot was partially stopped by Perkins and then the rolling ball hit the post. The ball then came out to Magee, who beat Perkins with his shot only to see Hassoun Camara clear the ball off the line. All these missed chances came back to bite the Fire in the butt.
It was the most unlikeliest of heroes. In the 87th minute Tissot scored on a header. It was his 1st goal in the MLS. Arnaud once again started the play slotting a through ball to Di Vaio inside the box. He was muscled off the ball by two Fire defenders and a scramble ensued with the ball bouncing around. An alert Tissot got his head on it and directed it just inside the post on the far side.
With that Montreal hung on for the remaining 7 minutes for an important road tie. It is a point that they are thankful for as they did not deserve it. Poor game for Montreal. This was the 3rd straight tie on the road for Montreal.
Montreal stays in 3rd place with 46 points and 5 games remaining. They are 2 points behind 2nd place Kansas City with the same amount of games played. The Impact’s next game is Friday night in Houston against the Dynamos.
On-Field Officials: Referee – Armando Villareal
-Goals: 1st Half:
25th minute: Montreal – Marco Di Vaio assisted by Davy Arnaud
57th minute: Chicago – Mike Magee
73rd minute: Chicago – Mike Magee
87th minute: Montreal – Maxim Tissot
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 2
Chicago – 7
-Corners: Montreal – 2
Chicago – 6
-Man of the Match: Maxim Tissot
-Final Score: Montreal – 2
Chicago – 2