Things can change very quickly in sports. Especially when it comes to the mindset of a team and their fans. Just a month ago or so the Montreal Impact – players, management, coaches, and owner Joey Saputo – were all being blasted on social media and by those who cover the team. For good reason. During the off season they once again fired their head coach Mauro Biello and replaced him with a high profile hire in Remi Garde, formerly of the English Premier League and Ligue 1 in France.
They also signed or traded for quite a few players like Raheem Edwards, Rod Fanni, Rudy Camacho, Zakaria Diallo, Clement Diop, Michael Petrasso, Jukka Raitala, Alejandro Silva, Saphir Taider, and Jeisson Vargas. Big turnover. Gone was the beloved Laurent Ciman along with Hernan Bernadello, Dein Boldor, Hassoun Camara, Maxime Crepeau, Blerim Dzemaili, Shaun Francis, Eric Kronberg, Wandrille Lefevre, Ambroise Oyongo, Andres Romero, and Ballou Tabla. Quite a turnover. Fans had high expectations, so when the team started 4-11 everyone was understandably disappointed. Fans had already given up the dream of making the playoffs with the Impact mired in second to last place in the Eastern Conference.
It is amazing what a 4 game win streak will do. Not only have the Impact won 4 games in a row, but have looked really good doing so. None more so than their last game when they defeated one of the league’s best sides in Sporting Kansas City. It was a 2-0 win on the road with it being only the second victory for the Impact away from home this season. Maybe it is the players finally understanding the Remi Garde system and how he wants them to play. Or maybe it is a whole bunch of new players adjusting to each other and the MLS style of play. Whatever the case, of late, hope springs eternal in the Montreal soccer community.
On a beautiful night for soccer, the Impact was facing one of the lesser lights of the MLS in the Colorado Rapids. Montreal could not take Colorado lightly though, even though they are in second to last place in the Western Conference. That is because, like the Impact, the Rapids were in the midst of good stretch. Though they lost their last game they had won the previous three.
What is noticeably different for the bleu-blance-noir is their defense. Before the Colorado game they had three straight clean sheets. Amazing for a team which in the earlier part of the season had relinquished the most goals in the league. The revelation here has been the play of Samuel Piette and Rod Fanni. Piette, who suffered a hip injury in the game against Kansas, has been a true bulldog in the middle of the pitch. His high work rate and determination leads to plenty of turnovers and for a team that relies on its transition play this is vital. Behind him in central defense has been Fanni. When Ciman was traded to the new Los Angeles FC club many fans were irate. How could a team with so many problems on defense trade their best defender? Fanni, whose contract was just recently extended until the end of the 2018 season, has come in and made fans (almost) forget Ciman. He has been the epitome of consistency and really has solidified the team especially of late in his partnership with Rudy Comacho in the middle. Montreal now spends precious little time in its own end as a result of the play of Fanni and Piette.
The solidification of the defensive side of the game has also resulted in the team possessing the ball more than their opponents. Pass after pass are strung together with whomever they are playing growing weary chasing the ball and never gaining any flow offensively. This was entirely the case over the 1st half of play on this evening. Montreal had the ball for most of the 1st half with Colorado only gaining possession after shutting Montreal down in the final third or due to a free kick. Even when Colorado finally got the ball back they did not retain possession for long.
All this led to a 0-0 half time score. Montreal had the ball for most of the half, but their attempts to draw Colorado out to the flanks, spread out the defense while chipping in a ball did not work. Colorado is a much taller team than Montreal, so they were able to either head away all crosses or Tim Howard was able to get out to collect them. The home side did get some chances, but wingback Daniel Lovitz wasted a great run by floating his shot well over the net, striker Matteo Mancosu saw his sure chance go somehow wide off his head and the much improved of late Silva’s shot curled wide of the far post. Flattering for the Rapids while I was a little worried for the Impact. We have all seen games in which one team dominates, cannot score then loses 1-0 when their opponents cashes in on their one chance.
Whatever Garde said to his team or adjusted in the way they were playing made an impact almost immediately upon the restart. Montreal was moving the ball quicker and trying to penetrate behind the Colorado defense via quick, short passes and darting runs. Something finally clicked and when it did in the blink of an eye Montreal had a 2-0 lead courtesy of a brace by midfielder Safir Taider. In the 55th and 56th minutes the Algerian international scored two goals that crushed the previously resolute resistance of the Rapids. The first was off a short pass from Silva and Taider slotted the shot through the legs of keeper Howard while the second one he showed a class finish off a freeing pass from Ignacio Piatti. While Taider was not expected to score as much as the man he replaced (Dzemaili) he was being counted on to contribute and here is to hoping these two goals will set him off on the right path.
There was still plenty of time remaining in the game, but Montreal was able to manage the ball for the most part and deny Colorado any hope. That is until their first shot on net in the 78th minute. After being awarded a free kick in the Montreal end, Colorado’s substitute Dominique Badji was able to tuck in a shot from point blank range when it came directly back to him.
A huge win for the Impact as it moves them into the final playoff spot (6th place) in the Eastern Conference. They have won 5 of their last 6 games and things are looking up for the squad. Next up for Montreal is a tough opponent in Eastern rival NYFC on the road on Wednesday, July 11th.
Referee: Allen Chapman
Assistant Referees: Jeremy Kieso, Peter Balciunas
4th Official: Malik Badawi
VAR: Matt Franz
-Goals: 2nd Half:
55th minute: Montreal – Saphir Taider assisted by Alejandro Silva
56th minute: Montreal – Saphir Taider assisted by Ignacio Piatti and Alejandro Silva
78th minute: Colorado – Dominique Badji
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 7
Colorado – 2
-Corners: Montreal – 11
Colorado – 0
-Man of the Match: Saphir Taider – Montral
-Final Score: Montreal – 2
Colorado – 1