In their it seems habitual late season push to the playoffs, this game was an important one for the Montreal Impact. If they win they would be almost assured of a playoff position. With 3 games remaining in the regular season, the Impact was in 8th place (with only the top 8 making the playoffs) as the game began with 34 points. They are 3 points ahead of Minnesota and 2 points behind Puerto Rico with some games in hand. This was their second-to-last home game of the season.
As stated previously, the Impact had pulled themselves into a playoff position only in this late portion of the schedule. They were on a good run where they had won 3 out of their last 4 games. Though they did have a disappointing outing in their last game losing 2-1 to Miami FC in Miami and that maybe put some doubts back into the minds of their supporters.
During this run the player that has stood out has been striker Ali Gerba. He has collected 15 points (7-1-15) in the last 4 games. The combination of Gerba with veterans Eduardo Sebrango and Antonio Ribeiro has reinvigorated the team and resulted in quite a few goals. The consummate pro Sebrango is on the precipice of another milestone with his next point with the Impact (he has 98) tying him for 2nd place overall in points in Impact history with Lloyd Barker.
This week the team found out that, besides players like Filipe Soares (knee) and Pierre Rudolph Mayard (toe) being on the injury list, defender Simon Gatti would be lost to the team for the rest of the season with a sports hernia. It is not a panic situation as the Impact has fullbacks Wesley Charles and Richard Pelletier in the lineup to back up the starting four of Nevio Pizzolitto, Adam Braz, Hicham Aaboubou, and Philippe Billy.
The game was not only important for the Impact, but vital to the Tampa Bay playoff hopes. If they lose then they are out of playoff contention. It was a must win for the team in yellow and green. Tampa Bay is one of three expansion teams to join the league this year. They had previously played in the NASL from 1975-84. Not on as good a run as the Impact, the Rowdies had not won in their last 9 games (0-3-6).
In deference to the importance of the game everything seemed to come together to make it an optimal playing day. It was a perfect day for soccer with it being sunny, but not hot and no significant wind. A large crowd, the 6th sold-out home game of the season, had come out to watch the game to provide a nice atmosphere for the home side. There was even a film, "Starbucks" directed by Ken Scott and starring Patrick Huard, being shot during the halftime break.
Responding to the energy of the crowd and the importance of the game, the Impact almost struck for another early goal. At the 0:30 mark midfielder Tony Donatelli crossed one quickly into the box from the right side that fellow midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo got a head to, but he missed the net. An early close call that showed that the Impact had come to play.
In the 8th minute of play Donatelli once again was the architect of a Montreal scoring chance. His through ball found Ribeiro, who had beaten the Tampa offside trap with a perfectly timed run, who in turn squared a ball to Gerba. Gerba was just outside the 6 yard box and alone in front of Tampa keeper Josh Lambo. Lambo had no other choice but to pull Gerba down. He was awarded a yellow card and the Impact had themselves a penalty shot. Like he has done all season, Donatelli stepped up to take the shot and calmly stroked it into the net for his 7th goal of the season. 1-0 Impact and the game was only 10 minutes old.
The combination of Gerba, Sebrango and Ribeiro were clicking on this day and they combined for a couple of other good chances to double the lead. None better than in the 26th minute when Ribeiro found Sebrango alone in the 18 yard box, but he stumbled and could not get a shot off despite the fact that he was alone in front of Lambo.
Around the 30 minute mark of the 1st half the game started to become a chippy affair and referee Geoff Gamble had to be vigilant before it turned into a replica of the Netherlands-Spain World Cup final. Tampa striker Aaron Wheeler was at the centre of many of the scuffles as he was the type who was just going around looking for trouble. When he was subbed off at the beginning of the 2nd half the game calmed down again.
Heading into the halftime break I, for one, was a little nervous about the fact that the Impact had dominated (I don't think that Tampa had a good scoring chance all half) and had created a couple of strong scoring chances, but were only up 1-0. The entire allure of the game changed when at the 3rd minute of injury time in the 1st half the Impact were awarded a corner. Di Lorenzo took it and Gerba, who was marked, bicycle kicked in into the net for a spectacular goal just before the half time whistle.
At 2-0 the Impact were in complete control. In the entire 2nd half the Rowdies had one kinda chance to score off a scramble after a corner, but that was about it. Montreal, on the other hand, continued to create chances. Once again Sebrango and Gerba teamed up for a chance in 64th minute that saw Gerba hit the crossbar twice in the same sequence and Rowdie fullback Valentin clearing the ball off the goaline. Gerba is so strong on the ball and full of confidence that opposing fullbacks are having a tough time knocking him off the ball.
To round out the scoring, the man of the match notched his 2nd goal of the game and 9th of the season in the 82nd minute. Gerba is making things look easy. He got by two Rowdie defenders before calmly putting the ball into a low corner beyond Lambo. A solid 3-0 victory where the Impact played well and demonstrated that if they play at the top of capabilities that they are again this year going to be a difficult team to play in the playoffs.
-On-Field Officials: Referee: Geoff Gamble
Linesmen: Pierre Cantave and John Gray
-Goals: 1st half:
10th minute – Montreal – (pk) Tony Donatelli
45th minute – Montreal – Ali Gerba assisted by Leonardo Di Lorenzo
82nd minute – Montreal – Ali Gerba assisted by Richard Pelletier
-Cards: 1st half:
8th minute – Tampa Bay – John Lambo – yellow
28th minute – Tampa Bay – Maykel Galindo – yellow
33th minute – Montreal – Ali Gerba – yellow
84th minute – Tampa Bay – Jonny Steele – yellow
-Shots: Montreal: 11
Tampa Bay: 9
-Saves: Montreal: 5
Tampa Bay: 2
-Corners: Montreal: 5
Tampa Bay: 4
-Setanta Man of the Match: Ali Gerba
-Attendance: 13, 034 (sell-out)
-Final Score: Montreal: 3
Tampa Bay: 0