Montreal Impact vs. FC Edmonton @ Saputo Stadium – September 17, 2011

This was the last home game of the regular season for the Montreal Impact.  The Impact were facing off against Canadian foes, FC Edmonton.  The home side finds themselves in the unenviable position of trying to stay alive for the playoffs.  Montreal has two games remaining and is 3 points behind the Minnesota Stars for the 6th and final playoff spot in the NASL.  Winning is the only option for them.

The Impact are not at all the team that started the 2011 season.  Gone is coach Marc Dos Santos.  Gone are players Alex Suprenant (defender now playing for FC Edmonton), Zurab Tsiskaridze (defender), Amine Meftouh (defender), Kevin Luarca (midfielder), Idriss Ech Chergui (forward), Richard Pelletier (defender), and Kevin Hatchi (defender).  Plus players like Ali Gerba (knee), Pierre-Rudolph Mayard, Reda Agoura (hamstring), and Bill Gaudette (ankle) have been lost for most of the season due to injury.  Players like Mignane Diouf (midfielder), Hassoun Camara (defender), Eduardo Sebrango (striker), Ian Westlake (midfielder), Greg Sutton (keeper), Cameron Knowles (defender), Ryan Pore (striker), Sinisa Ubiparipovic (midfielder), Miguel Montano (striker), and Marco Terminesi (midfielder) were brought on at different moments.  This is not the team that management and owner Joey Saputo envisioned for the Impact’s last season in the NASL.  They started off the season very poorly and have been trying to play catch up for the last couple of months.  It has been a tough road to hoe for them and their fans.  Things have been changing over the last couple of games.

There is a good cohesiveness with the team right now.  Montreal has won its last 3 games and only lost once in its last 7 games (4-1-2).  They entered the game against Edmonton coming off a 1-0 win against the 1st place Carolina RailHawks.  At home they have been especially tough winning their last 3 games at Saputo Stadium by shutout.

Defense has never been a problem for the team as they have the second best defensive record in the NASL with 27 goals against in 26 games.  Due to the injury to starting keeper Bill Gaudette back up Evan Bush has been pressed into action and he has rewarded the team with stellar play.  He leads the NASL with a 0.85 GAA.

This was the 4th and final game of the season between Montreal and Edmonton.  Montreal had won 2 (5-0, 2-0) and lost 1 game (1-0).  The game was Edmonton’s last regular season game.  They’ve already qualified for playoffs.  Edmonton, in their first season in the NASL, is in 5th place with 10 wins, 11 losses and 6 ties.  36 points in 27 games.  The two most dangerous players for Edmonton are strikers Shaun Seiko (9 goals) and Kyle Porter (7 goals).  Edmonton faced Montreal with 4th string goaltender David Monsalve, on loan from Toronto FC, getting the start in nets.

Midfielder Leonardo Di Lorenzo was wearing the captain’s armband as usual captain fullback Nevio Pizzolitto had to sit out the game due to an accumulation of yellow cards (5).  Defender Simon Gatti also was suspended for the game for the same reason.  Due to these players missing Luke Kreamalmeyer had to drop back and play fullback.  The disruption in the starting line-up seemed to wreak no havoc as the Impact had a strong game defensively.

Smothering the Edmonton attack the four fullbacks (Kreamalmeyer, Knowles, Philippe Billy, and Camara) were impenetrable.  Edmonton rarely got a sniff at the Montreal goal.  Keeper Bush’s first touch on the ball was at the 15 minute mark of the 1st half and it was only because one of his players played it back to him.  He was only called on to make one tough save during the entire 90 minutes and, like he has all season, Bush was equal to the task.

It was a nice Saturday night for soccer.  The evening was a little chilly, but perfect playing weather.  And there was a nice atmosphere in the almost full stadium.  The Impact, fully aware of the importance of the game in regards to their playoff aspirations, seemed a little nervous starting the game.  This was understandable.  The team they were trying to overtake for the last playoff position, the Minnesota Stars were playing Tampa on this evening.  I’m sure Impact players’ minds were on that game.

This was not a nothing game for Edmonton even though their place in the playoffs was assured.  They could move up in the standings and as a result host their 1st round game instead of playing on the road.

After settling down, Montreal has their first scoring chance in the 10th minute.  An excellent shot by striker Miguel Montano, who was paired with Ryan Pore, is stopped by Monsalve, who managed to get his hand on the shot and deflected it onto the bar.

The next Montreal shot Monsalve was not able to stop.  After a long run by defender Billy following the interception of an Edmonton pass, he got the ball to Ubiparipovic who played it to Di Lorenzo.  Showing all his experience, Di Lorenzo dummied the ball allowing Montano to collect it.  He raised his head, saw his forward mate Pore unmarked and dropped the ball back to him.  Pore took a perfect shot along the ground out of the reach of Monsalve just inside the left post.  A brilliant strike that gave Monsalve no chance to save it.

Montreal had the early goal.  Now they were feeling confident and controlled pretty much the rest of the game.  The only negative that can be said about the game from a Montreal point of view is that it took them so long to score a second goal.  The Montano-Pore combo once again hooked up for a second goal in the 78th minute with Montano crossing the ball over to Pore in front of the net.  Pore was once again clinical in his finish.

Montreal should have had other goals with striker Eduardo Sebrango, who came in at the 75th minute, making his presence felt immediately when two minutes later he blew by Edmonton fullback Paul Hamilton like he was standing still and toe pegged a shot that eluded Monsalve, but found the post.  There was also at least two other occasions that Montreal should have been awarded penalty shots as striker Montano was fouled inside the 18 yard box, but referee Justin Tasev obviously thought the Impact striker was embellishing and allowed play to continue.  Many were left scratching their heads at the ref’s decisions as they were blatant fouls.  This ended up not really hurting the Impact as they were able to win the game anyway, but it did succeed in raising the blood pressure of demonstrative coach Nick DeSantis.  He got so hot under the collar that he had to remove his jacket.

The Montano-Pore striker combo is one that seems to be working well for the team.  Pore is a classic finisher and Montano seems happy and able to set him up.  Montano moves well off ball and that creates space for himself.  He is a handful for the Impact’s opposition to mark.

The good news continued as the Impact players found out at the end of the game that Minnesota had only managed a 1-1 tie against Tampa giving them just 1 point.  With the win and the 3 points, Montreal is now only 1 point behind Minnesota with each team having one game left to play.  It was coming down to the bitter end.

The last third of the season has been strong for the Impact.  But I wonder if they have started their run too late?  We will find out the answer to that question next Saturday.  What we do know is that they send out their fans with something to cheer about with this dominating 2-0 win.  They are playing their best soccer at the end of the season.

Montreal’s final regular season game is against last placed Atlanta while Minnesota will be playing the 1st place Carolina team.  Depending on what happens next Saturday this could have been the last game at Saputo Stadium for a long while as the first couple of games in the MLS next season will be at Olympic Stadium while the expansion work is going on at Saputo.

Game Stats:
-Officials:  Referee: Justin Tasev
Linesmen:  Christian Palvicino and Martin Reid
-Goals:  1st Half:
12th minute:  Montreal – Ryan Pore assisted by Miguel Montano
2nd Half:
78th minute:  Montreal – Ryan Pore assisted by Miguel Montano
Yellow: Montreal – Philippe Billy – 16th minute
Miguel Montano – 20th minute
Edmonton – Alex Suprenant – 53rd minute
Paul Hamilton – 80th minute
-Shots:  Montreal:  15
Edmonton:  4
-Saves:  Montreal:  2
Edmonton:  4
-Corners:  Montreal:  5
Edmonton:  3
-Attendance:  12,433
-Setanta Man of the Match:  Ryan Pore
-Final Score:  Montreal:  2
Edmonton:  0

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