There is only one thing more popular that hockey in this town and that is a big event. Now, a soccer game does not usually fall into the latter category. That changes apparently if the game involves David Beckham. The 37-year-old Brit has largely been dismissed as a has been due to his move to from European soccer to the MLS. Whatever you think about his soccer skills there is no denying the fact that wherever he plays he fills the place.
This being the Impact’s first season in the MLS it was not a surprise that for their inaugural match a home they established an attendance record by selling over 58,000 tickets. This Saturday they broke that record again with 60,860 (a Canadian record for attendance at a professional soccer game) attending the match versus the Galaxy. Though this was an important match in that it would determine how the first year Impact matched up against the team that won the MLS Cup the year before the huge attendance was largely to do with Beckham playing. This was obvious to me when I tried to go to the bathroom before the game and had to wait in a long line up. There was an unusually high percentage of females filling the seats. Most were there to see the handsome Beckham in person. Whatever the reason, the game was a sellout and had a great atmosphere.
Montreal had played a game in the Canadian Championship earlier that week and had lost to Toronto 2-0. Coach Jesse Marsch had said that they took that game seriously, but the line up was a little different (read: more talented) on this afternoon. Defenders Nelson Rivas and Hassoun Camara, midfielders Felipe and Justin Mapp and striker Davy Arnaud were all inserted into the starting line up.
The Impact, who have gotten a point in all three of their previous home games, came out strong to begin the game. They more than held their own against the league champs. One of the insertions in the line up played an important role in a play that led to the Impact opening the score. Central defender Rivas, who played a robust and inspired game while covering the talented striker and US national player Landon Donovan, spotted Bernardo Corradi playing against a shorter defender. From in his own zone half Rivas launched a long, high ball in Corradi’s direction that he got the slightest of touches on with his head. Predicting what was going to happen, Impact captain Arnaud had already begun a well-timed run. After Corradi’s flick on it was off to the races for Arnaud, who deftly managed to flick the ball over the slightly hesitant Galaxy keeper, Brian Perk. The Big O exploded. After only 8 minutes of play, the Impact had a 1-0 lead.
In the first half, Impact keeper Donovan Ricketts did not have much to do. The play was mostly in the Galaxy end of the field. Montreal had a couple more golden chances in the 1st half to double or even treble their lead. Just 10 minutes later it was Arnaud who played the role of set up man when inside the box he tried to cut the ball back to midfielder Mapp, who was unmarked. Unfortunately, the ball never got to Mapp as it struck Corradi who had gotten tangled up with a Galaxy defender and had fallen. Another chance came in the 21st minute when midfielder Collen Warner intercepted a ball and was away on a long run along the right side of the field. He made it all the way to the Galaxy net, but his shot just missed on the far side. Finally in the 31st minute, Felipe put a free kick into the box and Corradi’s header landed on top of the net.
You could tell every time that Beckham touched the ball as a round of boos announced it. Marsch said before the game that they would have to mark the slick passer closely and not allow him many dead ball chances. After getting a yellow card for rough play on Felipe, Beckham seemed more engaged. The Impact had woken the giant. More precisely would be to say that the perceived embellishment of fouls by Felipe angered Beckham and he let it show in a scuffle deep in the Montreal end after Juninho was show a yellow card. After several well struck corner kicks, Becks finally was granted one dead ball chance too many. Rivas was called for a foul on Donovan five yards outside the Impact box, Beckham bent the ball around the wall and just inside the near post. A perfect strike that few players are capable of and he made it look so easy. The game was knotted at 1-1 in the 62nd minute.
In the second half with their legs getting heavier and heavier and the Galaxy upping the tempo, the Impact found themselves having to defend furiously and Ricketts became a very busy man. He made two incredible back-to-back glove saves just two minutes after the tying goal. The first was a great reflex save off Donovan and then scrambled back to his feet in time to get a hand on the ensuing shot off the rebound by Irish national player, Robbie Keane. Ricketts was not going to let his former team get the best of him. He only allowed Beckham’s shot to get behind him despite having the Galaxy take the game to the Impact for most of the 2nd half.
Bottom line is that the Impact are still undefeated at home with a 2-0-2 record. They earned a point against a strong opponent and during a week where they must have been a little tired. Their next game is next Saturday also at home against the Thierry Henry led New York Red Bulls. It is also the Impact’s last game at the Olympic Stadium as their real home, Saputo Stadium, will be ready for their June 16 game versus Seattle.
-Officials: Referee: Jason Anno
-Goals: 1st Half
8th Minute: Montreal – Davy Arnaud assisted by Nelson Rivas
62nd Minute: Los Angeles – David Beckham (freekick)
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 11
Los Angeles: 15
-Saves: Montreal: 5
Los Angeles: 1
-Corners: Montreal: 3
Los Angeles: 10
-Cards: Montreal: Yellow – Matteo Ferrari – 46th minute
Los Angeles: Yellow – Dan Keat – 44th minute, David Beckham – 54th minute, Junínho – 57th minute
-Final Score: Montreal: 1
Los Angeles: 1