This was to be, one way or another, the last game of the 2009 season for the Cinderella story Montreal Impact. It can be classified as a Cinderella season whether they win or lose today due to the fact that the team was mired at the bottom of the USL-1 standings until the final third of the season. By going undefeated in their last 8 regular season games the Impact was able to save what up until that point had been a disappointing season. They ended up in 5th place and then in the most unlikely of situations they were able to defeat two teams ranked higher than them to make it to the finals where they would face the defending USL-1 champions, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
These two teams have quite a lengthy history versus one another that goes back 47 games. Montreal leads the series 27-13-6. They have even met 3 times during the playoffs with the Whitecaps eliminating the Impact twice in the semi finals. During the 2009 regular season the Impact defeated the Whitecaps 3 times, but lost twice to them in the Nutrilite Canadian Championships.
This was to be the final game of a 2 game aggregate goal series. Montreal won the first game in Vancouver by the score of 3-2. The biggest thing that happened during that first game was that Whitecap captain Martin Nash was shown a red card and thus was suspended for the final game. This was to be a big piece missing for the visitors in this the first all-Canadian USL-1 final.
The game started at precisely 2:45 p.m. in the sold out (13, 034) and loud Saputo Stadium. Seemingly in an effort to match the 'colourfulness' of their fans the Impact themselves had all the colours of the rainbow on their feet. Eschewing the usual black cleats, members of the Impact had yellow (Brown, Donatelli, Gjertsen), pink (Byers), green (deRoux), and white (Testo) shoes on. All in attendance were silently hoping that their play on the field would match the flashiness of their shoes.
From the very beginning Argentinean midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo showed he was fired up and ready for the game. Playing at top speed and seemingly everywhere on the field, Di Lorenzo was showing his teammates the way. In the 10th minute he drew a foul due to his hustle and in the 11th he launched the Impact's first shot on the net. It was wide, but it didn't matter as he set the tone. Maybe his fast start was because he knew that when the Impact scores first they are 12-2-2 and when their opponents score first they are a terrible 0-9-2.
Impact keeper Matt Jordan demonstrated early on he was also here to win. In the 17th minute he stretched to his full extension to grab a corner out of the air before it could find the head of a Whitecap player. Then in the 20th minute he put his body at risk by coming out to grab a Whitecap through ball. He paid for it by receiving some kicks from Whitecap fullback Luca Bellisomo. While the trainer came out to attend to Jordan, who stayed down on the ground, Bellisomo received a yellow card for his dangerous and unsportsmanlike play.
Jordan was able to continue (phew!) and that was about all the 'danger' he was to face for the rest of the game. His team was that dominant. From the 20th minute on the outcome of the game was never in doubt. Despite the fact that it took another 8 minutes for the Impact to break the scoring ice, they dictated the play from that point on. Using their speed, which Whitecap rookie fullback Wes Knight seemed unable to deal with along the left side, they started creating chances.
In the 28th minute striker Roberto Brown was pulled down by goalkeeper Jay Nolly, who was lucky that the referee did not give him a red card. However, referee Dave Gantar judged the foul was worthy of a penalty shot. Central defender Shaun Pejic must have complained too vigorously because he was shown a red card. Or did the referee think Pejic was the man who took Brown down? Whatever the case he was out of the game. Shooting themselves in the foot again for the second game in a row the Whitecaps would have to finish the game with only 10 men.
Grasping the opportunity, midfielder Tony Donatelli took the penalty shot and stroked in into the bottom left corner. No chance for Nolly. The crowd exploded! They sensed how important this play was. A goal and a Whitecap player less to deal with. Everything was going Montreal's way.
Up 4-2 in total goals you might think that the Impact would go into a defensive shell or just try to keep possession of the ball. But this is a team that knows what happens when you do that (I won't go over the whole Santos Laguna fiasco again), so they wisely kept pushing forward.
This strategy worked as they struck twice within 2 minutes late in the 1st half. Former Whitecap player Joey Gjertsen scored off a great pass from Roberto Brown in the 40th minute and Brown scored one of his own in the 42nd minute. The fans were delirious! They only quieted down a bit when the Whitecaps scored in the 44th minute when Ansu Toure headed a ball past keeper Jordan. This was the only defensive breakdown by the Impact all day. Collecting themselves and realizing due to some yelling by Adam Braz and keeper Jordan that the game was not over they continued their domination.
The 1st half ended with the Impact leading 3-1 and with the aggregate score 6-3 the celebrations began (not on the field, but in the stands). The 2nd half was just played out. The Whitecap's hearts were not in it and the Impact were content to just move the ball around the field. They were there to win and not to humiliate their opponents. The most exciting moment of the 2nd half happened when long time Impact player Mauro Biello came on to the field as a substitute in the 80th minute. He received a warm applause from the Impact fans as they realized that this could be the 39-year-old's last game with the team. Let's hope not as he is a good leader.
At the final whistle it was official. The Impact had won their 3rd USL-1 title (previously in 1994 and 2004). Let's hope their winning ways continues with the other Montreal teams – the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Canadiens! Congratulations to the team, organization and the Saputos.
-Officials: Referee: Dave Gantar
Linesmen: Hector Vergara and Philippe Briere
-Goals: Montreal – 30' – (pk) Tony Donatelli
Montreal – 40' – Joey Gjertsen assisted by Roberto Brown
Montreal – 42' – Roberto Brown assisted by Peter Byers
Vancouver – 44' – Ansu Toure assisted by Marlon James
-Cards: Vancouver – 21' – Luca Bellisomo – Yellow
Vancouver – 29' – Shaun Pejic – Red
Vancouver – 56' – Justin Moose – Yellow
-Shots: Montreal: 8
-Saves: Montreal: 3
-Corners: Montreal: 5
-Attendance: 13, 034 (sold out)