It seems like all season long that one defensive lapse by the Impact leads to them not getting the 3 points granted for a win. Several wins have turned into ties or losses for our heroes and has placed them in the precarious playoff situation they now find themselves in. In short, valuable points have gone down the drain due to some lax defensive play.
This was to be the Impact's first game against the Carolina RailHawks this season. In a scheduling oddity the Impact were playing the first of two back-to-back home games against Carolina. The Impact (9-10-5) are coming into the game with a two game winning streak. They are in 6th place with 32 points and are tied with the Vancouver Whitecaps and 3 points behind Rochester in the standings. There are only 5 more regular season games after today's match. As you can see this was an important game to say the least for the home side.
The RailHawks are in 2nd place overall with 48 points and a stellar 14-5-6 record. Carolina has not lost in its last 8 matches (5-0-3) and are coming off a dominating 9-0 win against Miami FC.
Several Impact players have been distinguishing themselves with their strong play lately. Matt Jordan has been back in nets as the starting keeper for the last few games. He seems to have won his starting position back. Striker Peter Byers has scored a goal in each of the last two Montreal games, so he has earned himself (for the time being) a spot in the starting lineup. Finally, defender Cédric Joqueviel, who scored his first goal of the season last game, has been named the Impact Man of the Match the last two games.
A player in the opposite category is striker Eduardo Sebrango. What has happened to Sebrango this season? He is back with the Impact for his second tour of duty, but it is not going so well so far. Though he has the most shots on the team he has only scored 4 goals all season. That is way underachieving for a man of his talent. The team needs him to find his groove and start scoring the goals they so desperately need.
On the injury front defender/midfielder Simon Gatti is out with a thigh injury. While starting today, stalwart midfielder David Testo, who is looking even blonder than usual, is playing through a minor ankle injury. Defender Stephen deRoux would play wearing a mask to protect his injured cheek.
The Impact will be really trying for a fast start as they sport a 9-2-1 record when they score first. It won't be easy as Carolina is a good defensive team and keeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell has a 0.416 goals against average.
Like many games in Montreal this season it was overcast and rainy at the beginning of the game. The cool weather is good for the players, but it rained for a bit 30 minutes prior to the game, so the field was a little slick. And it rained again during the national anthems, again at half time…you get the picture it was raining off and on during the entire match. This also led to a sparser crowd in the stands, but those that were there stayed the whole game and were rewarded with a tight, well-played contest.
Despite the disparity pointswise between the two teams the Impact played like they belonged with Carolina. Good soccer was played during the first 10 minutes of the game with plenty of clever ball movement and very few stoppages. In the 13th minute defender Adam Braz ventured down the right side of the field (as he did many times during the game to good results) and would have found himself in the clear if he weren't pulled down by RailHawk defender Jeremy Tolleson, who received a yellow card, just outside the penalty box. The resulting free kick led to a good scoring chance for striker Roberto Brown who flicked a shot just wide of the short post.
This creative and smart play by the Impact continued for most of the 1st half. They controlled possession and built their attack well from the back. They were obviously responding well to Coach Dos Santos's game plan. Several scoring chances came about due to their strong play. Several balls from Brown to Peter Byers were just off the mark and could have led to good scoring chances.
Finally in the 33rd minute a team broke the scoreless draw and it was your Montreal Impact. Another nice medium-length through ball courtesy of fullback Adam Braz found midfielder Tony Donatelli unmarked just outside the 6-yard-box and he made no mistake powering a header just inside the far post.
The Impact had done just what they wanted as they were controlling play, not allowing the vaunted offense of the RailHawks any quality chances and had scored first. Now we would see if they could keep their focus and withstand the Carolina pressure everyone knew was coming.
At the end of the 1st half, Byers had another chance to score almost getting to a loosely played ball before the Carolina keeper. Braz is continuing to put pressure on the Carolina defense by playing dangerous balls forward and imposing himself into the offense. In deRoux and Braz the Impact have two outside defenders who are not afraid to push forward and cause mismatches in the other team's end.
Byers had yet another chance late in the 1st half to put the Impact up by two when Leighton O'Brien found him unmarked inside the box. Patterson-Sewell was forced to make a good diving save to his right. The ball rolled across the gaping net, but no Impact player was there to finish it off.
It was a good half (they outshot Carolina by a 6-2 margin) of football by the Impact, but they would have to keep their focus because you knew that a team of Carolina's calibre was going to up the tempo and are very capable of a comeback. Montreal could not make the mistake of taking their foot off the gas.
As predicted Carolina comes out from the whistle putting pressure on the Impact. Coach Dos Santos had decided not to make any changes at halftime. The Carolina team was spending more time in Montreal's end, forcing some corners and also benefiting from some dubious calls by the ref against the Impact.
In the 2nd half Carolina put pressure on the Impact defense by bringing forward two of their gargantuan defenders, Brad Rusin and Mark Schulte, for all corners and free kicks. They had many inches on Impact players like deRoux (5'9"), Byers (5'10") and Biello (5'9").
Suddenly in the 63rd minute a defensive breakdown by Montreal results in a goal for Carolina by striker John Cunliffe. It was an individual effort that was the result of a giveaway by the midfield and no one on the Montreal side taking charge and challenging him. He just dribbled around a few players and got off a close range shot that keeper Matt Jordan had no chance on. His defense had hung him out to dry. And just like that the game was tied 1-1.
Despite Coach Dos Santos's best efforts to instil some life back into his side by bringing striker Eduardo Sebrango (also looking blonder) in for Roberto Brown, Leonardo Di Lorenzo in for captain Mauro Biello and midfielder Joey Gjertsen in for Leighton O'Brien did not make much of a difference. Yes, Sebrango did have a quality chance almost immediately upon his entry into the match which Patterson-Sewell saved and they did win a few corner kicks late in the game, but nothing really too threatening. The defensive lapse seemed to have taken the air out of the Impact's proverbial tires.
I guess you could look at a tie against the 2nd place team to be a good thing, but the Impact needed the 3 points. They are battling for their playoff lives against a couple of other teams. The good news is that they did not lose and looked to be able to play at the level of one of the stronger teams in the league. That and they have another crack at the RailHawks on Wednesday night at Saputo Stadium.
-Officials: Referee: Geoff Gamble
Linesmen: Mike Lambert and Bedik Charchafian
-Goals: Montreal – 33' – Tony Donatell assisted by Adam Braz
Carolina – 63' – John Cunliffe
-Cards: Carolina – yellow – 13' – Jeremy Tolleson
Montreal – yellow – 75' – Nevio Pizzolitto
Carolina – yellow – 81' – Greg Shields
-Shots: Montreal: 10
-Saves: Montreal: 2
-Corners: Montreal: 4
-Carlsberg Man of the Match: Tony Donatelli
-Attendance: 12, 680