Montreal loves winners. And even more than winners Montreal sports fans want players who raise them out of their seats and to idolize them. Though it has taken a few games, I think with the Impact that man is going to be striker Ali Gerba.
The 23-year-old Gerba was one of the players called out by team owner Joey Saputo during his take-no-prisoners press conference last week. He claimed that Gerba and his agent were tough negotiators during their contract talks and he hadn't come through with any points in the six games he had played with the team.
Well, Gerba exploded with a major contribution in the form of the Impact's first hat trick by a player ever in their history. Now, in the game versus the Rochester Rhinos Gerba did not score 3 goals, but he was very close. So close that the sell-out crowd of 13,034 was chanting his name with a couple of minutes left in a very satisfying game for the home crowd and the Impact themselves. Montreal has found itself someone to adore.
As of this past Friday evening there remained six games in the Impact's season. As they are tied for 7th place with the Minnesota Stars and only the top eight teams get into the playoffs every game for them is a must win if they want to participate in the after season activities. It is tight amongst the top 9 teams in the USSF Second Division with only an 8 point difference between the 4th and 9th place teams.
Coming off a confidence boosting 5-0 drubbing on the road of the Baltimore Crystal Palace, the Impact was to be facing the league leading Rochester Rhinos. Their 14-5-6 record is quite impressive. The Impact were looking, in the two teams' final meeting of the season, for their first win versus Rochester this season. Having lost twice 2-1 and then tied the other game 1-1 with veteran striker Eduardo Sebrango (about to make his 100th start with the Impact) having scored 2 of the 3 goals against Rochester. There is a strong rivalry between the two teams, so you would think that it would lead to a classic game. Well, while it wasn't the most exciting game it was a strong one played by the home team.
Rochester came into Montreal on a 6 game winning streak and they have only lost 3 times in 12 games on the road. They are a hard team to score against and keeper Neal Kitson has 7 shutouts in 14 games. The two Rhino keepers are numbers one and two in goals-against-average in the league. Bottom line is that the Rhinos are the 2nd best defensive team in the league. Montreal was going to have to work hard, be smart, make the most of their offensive chances, and remained discipline defensively to have a good outcome on this perfect evening for soccer.
People barely had a chance to sit down in their seats when Leonardo Di Lorenzo crossed an innocent looking ball into the Rhino 18 yard box. With a great sense of anticipation Gerba gets to the ball first behind the Rhino defense and directed it beyond a stunned Kitson with the outside of his left foot. We were only 18 seconds (the fastest goal ever scored by the Impact) into the game and the Impact were ahead 1-0.
This was exactly the start the Impact were hoping for and the Rhinos just seemed stunned. They did not lay back after scoring the game's 1st goal. That would be a mistake as Rochester can score goals. Montreal was controlling the ball and stringing together many consecutive passes in the 1st half.
They had a couple other excellent chances to score in the first 45 minutes. In the 18th minute when a cross from the right side by Tony Donatelli found Di Lorenzo, who was covered at the time, and he managed to get his foot on it, but Kitson makes a good stop. Late in the half at the 45th minute mark Donatelli once again made a good pass that sprung Sebrango. He was in the clear though somehow he did not double the Impact advance. Sebrango's shot went by the far post and over the touchline for a goal kick.
The 2nd half started slowly with both teams playing cautiously. Then slowly but surely the Rhinos began to up the tempo. They began to put pressure on the Impact. Nothing really came of it until the 67th minute when Isaac Kissi got behind Adam Braz. Many Impact players' and fans' hearts must have stopped and then started again when Kissi's shot hit the post behind Matt Jordan. For once luck seemed to be on the Impact's side.
When Coach Marc Dos Santos took Donatelli out in the 71st minute and put in newcomer Anthony Le Gall the game swung back in Montreal's favour. He created some chances offensively and instilled some fresh legs into the Montreal side. It finally paid off in the 81st minute when another sub, in for Sebrango, Reda Agourram's speed disrupts the Rhino defense. Antonio Ribeiro gets the ball from him and quickly puts it to Gerba just inside the 18 yard box. Gerba shields it well, turns and fires. It is another goal! Not even the yellow card he received for taking off his shirt after the goal put a damper on the celebration on the field and in the stands.
Gerba is now showing the strength and finishing skills that the Impact signed him for. If he keeps this up team owner Joey Saputo will no longer be able to complain about the strong arm tactics he and his agent used. He'll be well worth whatever the team is paying him. And he won't have to call another press conference as his team has really responded to the last one. They have won both games, moved up to 6th place in the league and have scored 7 goals while not allowing one. A complete turn around. The talented but underachieving team has to keep it up for their 5 remaining games.
The team now has a little bit of a break as their next game is only on September 8th in Puerto Rico and then on to Miami. Their next home game will be on Sunday, September 19th against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
-On Field Officials: Referee: Geoff Gamble
Linesmen: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho and Richard Gamache
-Goals: 1st Half:
0:18 – Montreal – Ali Gerba assisted by Leonardo Di Lorenzo
81st minute – Montreal – Ali Gerba assisted by Antonio Ribeiro
69th minute – Rochester – Tyler Bellamy – yellow
81st minute – Montreal – Ali Gerba – yellow
90th minute – Rochester – Jonathan Greenfield – yellow
-Shots: Montreal: 14
-Saves: Montreal: 5
-Corners: Montreal: 3
-Setanta Man of the Match: Ali Gerba
-Attendance: 13,034 (sell-out)
-Final Score: Montreal: 2