This was a game of a couple of firsts for a couple different participants in Montreal-Seattle game. Saturday was the first game of the Montreal Impact’s 2nd season in the MLS and they have a clear goal – make the playoffs. Montreal to make the playoffs will have to do much better on the road. They only earned 9 points all of last season on the road. The team finished 7th in the Eastern Conference going 12-16-6 last season. They played 6 of their first 8 games on the road and dug themselves into a hole they couldn’t escape from by going 1-5-2.
It was also the first game coaching in the MLS for Swiss native Marco Schallibaum. He has already made some changes on the squad. Patrice Bernier was playing a different role with the team. He was still a central midfielder, but now was now just in front of the defenders. As a result we should not expect the same offensive numbers from Patrice as he had last year. Another veteran player who was slotted into a different position was captain Davy Arnaud. Arnaud showed his flexibility by playing several positions with the team last season including left fullback. This season, for the time being anyways, Schallibaum has him playing a central midfield position alongside Felipe. The positioning means that an offensive contribution is expected of him.
Newcomer Andrea Pisanu, a former teammate of Marco Di Vaio at Bologna, was playing his first MLS game. The 31-year-old is a slick player who is a wonderful passer. His signing was surely a sign that the team hopes he and Di Vaio can reestablish the chemistry they displayed in the Italian league. Also he is a player that plays the style of European football that the team is going for.
Seattle was beginning their 5th season in the MLS. They had a 3-1 record in opening games. They have a busy beginning of the season with regular season games and Champions League games.
There was a big crowd in Seattle which is not surprising as they always have good attendance. Seattle had the run of play in the first 10 minutes of the game. Proof of that was that they benefitted from several early corners. The Impact seemed a little disorganized. For example, midway through the 1st half fullback Matteo Ferrari and keeper Troy Perkins smashed into each other going for a crossed ball with Perkins coming out worse for the wear. The play was stopped and Perkins looked a bit shaken up plus had a small cut over his right eye. He stayed in the game.
Referee Silviu Petrescu showed early on that he was not going to tolerate any nonsense or repetitive fouling. At 16:20 of the 1st half he showed the yellow card to Seattle’s Brad Evans after he pulled on Felipe’s shirt as the quick Montreal midfielder was about to lead his team on an offensive foray. Evans had already committed several fouls and so he went into Petrescu’s book. This was a good choice by the ref as the game from that point on was light on fouls with players understanding that there would be a price to pay.
As is typical weather in Seattle it was lightly raining for a good part of the game making the artificial turf (a field that several other teams in the league have complained about) a little slick. As the 1st half wore on the Impact gained confidence and began playing as they are capable of. Pisanu did not seem put off by the wet field as he placed a couple of perfectly weighted balls beyond the Seattle fullbacks. The first was at 17:45 of the 1st half which gave Di Vaio his first chance to score. Unfortunately, his timing was off a little and he redirected the cross over the bar. The positive aspect of the play was Pisanu showing his talent as a passer and his kind of quality service is exactly what this team needs.
This is the season in which Di Vaio has to prove that he is worthy of the designated player tag. Something he really has to improve on is the amount of offside calls against him. He has to get that timing down. It doesn’t look good early as he had already been flagged for offside a few times in the first 25 minutes of this game. However, in the 35th minute he did atone for those calls.
Just after the 35th minute mark, Di Vaio smartly started a break by the Impact by finding a streaking Felipe just outside the Seattle 18 yard box. Showing the breadth of his skill Felipe smartly froze a trio of Seattle defenders and then chipped the ball over them to Arnaud. A great first touch by Arnaud got the ball under control and then using the outside of his right foot he looped the ball over Michael Gspurning. For the second year in a row, Arnaud scored Montreal’s first goal of the season.
Montreal went into the break up 1-0, but there were a couple of worrying signs for them in the 1st half. They showed some weakness against attacks up their left side as Justin Mapp and Jed Brovsky seemed to not be in sync. Schallibaum must have seen this too as coming out of the break Sanna Nyassi was subbed in for Mapp. Though he is not really an improvement defensively, Nyassi’s speed brings a different dimension to the Montreal side.
Another interesting thing coming out of the break was that Montreal started with 10 players as Di Vaio did not come out of the dressing room. They did not have to play shorthanded very long as he emerged after a minute of play and came onto the field.
Nyassi’s speed almost paid dividends almost immediately. In the 50th minute Montreal has a chance at net as Gspurning is forced to come out of his net to challenge Nyassi on a break. The ball found its way onto Di Vaio’s foot but his weak shot towards the deserted net was headed away by rookie fullback, DeAndre Yedlin.
His imprint on the game continued as Nyassi created another high quality chance in the 64th minute. Again it started with a nice pass from Di Vaio to Nyassi along the left wing. He used his speed and then crossed the ball into the box. A diving header by Arnaud was a good one, but unluckily it hit the crossbar.
A few minutes later in the 66th minute it was Seattle’s turn to find the woodwork. Midfielder Evans took a shot from 23 yards out. It was a low screamer. The shot glanced just barely off the fingertips of a diving Perkins and hit the post to his left. Close! It was even closer in the 81st minute when Seattle striker Eddie Johnson, who was somehow unmarked in the 6 yard box, hit the crossbar. Ferrari and Perkins were both beaten on the play, but Montreal still stayed up 1-0.
Though they had the lead what must have been in the backs of the minds of Impact fans and the players themselves was the memory of the trouble they had defending leads especially late in games last season. Montreal has to tighten up defensively if they want to make the playoffs. They allowed 51 goals last season and that was the 5th highest in the league. They also tied with Toronto for the most goals surrendered in the final 15 minutes with 16. With 20 returning players on the roster, Montreal all have one year more experience as a team and it should come into play.
Over the last 10 minutes Montreal just hung on. Seattle had the ball most of the time and had some chances to tie up the game. Montreal seemed just content to clear the ball out. They bent, but did not break meaning they were able to hold on to that 1-0 lead.
It was only one game and one win, but the team did win on the road. Something they were only able to do twice all of last season, so it bodes well. The 3 points gained are important because Impact was 2-12-3 in away games last season and Seattle is one of the most difficult places to play.
Montreal’s next game is this Saturday in Portland against the Timbers. They will remain out west while preparing for their second game.
-Referee: Silviu Petrescu
-Goals: 1st Half:
35th minute: Montreal – Davy Arnaud assisted by Felipe
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 5
-Corners: Montreal: 3
-Player of the Match: Davy Arnaud
-Final Score: Montreal – 1
Seattle – 0