The Montreal Impact are on their best streak of the season. They are unbeaten in their last six games with a 5-0-1 record. This streak has allowed them to work their way up in the standings all the way up to 5th place (42 points). Since the Impact are now assured of a playoff spot, Coach Marc Dos Santos tinkered with his starting line-up a bit. Giving regular starters David Testo and Adam Braz the day off, defender ZanZan was starting his first game in a long while and Simon Gatti was taking Testo's place in the midfield.
Other changes to the starting eleven included Matt Jordan back in nets after sitting out the last game due to back spasms. Sitting out due to the fact that he had accumulated 8 yellow cards over the course of the season was defender Nevio Pizzolitto. He will miss the last 2 regular season games as a result. Striker Eduardo Sebrango fractured a bone in his right hand when he fell awkwardly last game so he was also on the sidelines for at least one game. Taking Pizzolitto's place was young defender (and a man with a bright future) Hicham Aaboubou and taking Sebrango's place was Peter Byers. This is a man who has really put the team on his back over the last 7 games. He has scored some important goals included the one last game against Vancouver that allowed them to win 1-0. With his strong play and 4 goals Byers has become an important element in the Impact line-up.
For their second-to-last game of the season the Impact's opponents were the 8th place Minnesota Thunder (30 points). Over the course of their six games played in Montreal against the Thunder the Impact are undefeated with a record of 4-0-2. The Thunder are not to be taken lightly, however, as they were coming off a 5-2 win against the 3rd place Puerto Rico Islanders. Even though it is impossible for them to make the playoffs it is obvious that the Thunder is not a team that is just playing out it's remaining games.
Despite the fact that the Impact have indicated that they want to continue playing strong soccer going into the playoffs they seemed unprepared in the opening 15 minutes of the 1st half. The game couldn't have started worse for the Impact. Some sloppy play led to several early chances for the Thunder. The home side was playing with fire when defender Stefano Pesoli, who was the last man back at the time, was stripped of the ball and keeper Matt Jordan was pulled out of the net. A Thunder player thinking he had a sure goal stroked a shot on net only to have defender Aaboubou stop it.
You knew this kind of luck wouldn't last and a mere minute later the Thunder notched the first goal of the match. Another breakdown in the defensive third of the pitch and striker Marco Terminesi managed to pop a ball up and over keeper Jordan. The Impact defense was having a tough start to the game.
The porous play continued as a mere 2 minutes later Thunder striker Melvin Tarney got behind the Impact defense forcing Jordan to come out to block his attempt. Matt Jordan looked disgusted and was screaming constantly. Thankfully for the Impact they were snapped back into the game by an idiot who ran onto the field and disrupted play by ripping open a bag of garbage on the centre dot. It took a few minutes to clean this up and Matt Jordan took advantage of the stoppage in play to gather his teammates around to forcefully tell them to get their butts in gear.
This pep talk seems to work as the Impact started dominating possession of the ball and were constantly pushing forward getting chances to score. Striker Rocco Placentino had the team's best chance in the 17th minute when he sent a bullet of a shot towards the Thunder net, but keeper Matt Van Oekel was able to punch it out. The Impact, while not playing up to their potential, were putting together the beginnings of a strong game.
Coach Dos Santos obviously continued the "talk" that keeper Jordan began during the half time break because the team came out much more determined. Also Dos Santos made some adjustments at halftime taking out ZanZan and putting in Stephen deRoux and also removing Leighton O'Brien, moving Placentino into the midfield and bringing on team top scorer Roberto Brown to partner with Byers.
While ZanZan had shown his rust Byers was dominant. He was first to all balls, ran miles and held off defenders more than once allowing his teammates a chance to join into the attack. After watching Byers these last seven games I have come to the conclusion that this is a player who has earned a starting spot on Dos Santos's line up card. Of all the strikers (including Rocco Placentino, Eduardo Sebrango) the duo of Byers and Roberto Brown pose the biggest threats. Brown is great in the air and a sublime passer while Byers is blazing speed and superior strength. A great combination and one that the coach should go into the playoffs with as his starting two up front.
The second half totally belonged to the home side. They completely dominated. The Thunder were just holding on….barely. Byers, often as a result of lovely through balls by Brown, racked up chances. Coming close, but never scoring. They were lacking that finishing touch around the net. That is until the 85th minute when Peter Byers (who else!?) got a ball from Brown in the 18 yard box, made an awesome turn leaving two Thunder defenders in his dust and then stroked a low shot into the opposite corner. GOAL! Finally!
Despite knotting up the score at 1-1 the Impact kept pushing forward. The crowd was loving it! The only bad thing that happened in the 2nd half was that in the 90th minute striker Peter Byers was goaded into a pushing match with a Thunder defender and (harshly) referee Carol Anne Chenard issued him his second yellow card of the game (his first came after he removed his shirt while celebrating his goal). This means an automatic one game suspension for Byers and he will miss the last regular season game. Too bad as he is on quite a hot streak.
The Impact are now unbeaten in 7 games and are still in 5th place remaining 1 point ahead of Rochester, who also drew on Sunday. The team's final game is against the Carolina RailHawks on Friday, September 18th in Cary. As for the next home game it will be in the first round of the USL-1 playoffs. Playoff tickets are already on sale through Admission (www.admission.com or (514) 790-1245) or at the Impact box office. Make sure you come out and support one of the hottest teams in the league for their playoff run.
-Officials: Referee: Carol Anne Chenard
Linesmen: Pierre Cantave and Nicholas Dubuc
-Goals: Minnesota – 6' – Marco Terminesi assisted by Nate Knox
Montreal – 85' – Peter Byers assisted by Roberto Brown
-Cards: Montreal – 86' – Peter Byers – yellow
Montreal – 90' – Peter Byers – yellow + red
Minnesota – 90' – Rich Costanzo – yellow
-Shots: Montreal: 9
-Saves: Montreal: 4
-Corners: Montreal: 3
-Attendance: 12, 805