When you are in the midst of a season like the Montreal Impact are having and you score two goals on the road you’d expect that the soccer gods would fix it that you would win the game. Sometimes things are going so badly that even when you do that you lose.
Going into the game Montreal was still looking for its first win on the road this season. Despite a recent good patch they still find themselves in 10th (last) place in the Eastern Division. Being 16 points out of a playoff position I don’t think that anyone on the Montreal team in their heart of hearts believes they can make the MLS playoffs. Still there are things to play for for the Montreal side. They are building for next season with players trying to prove that they should be in the team’s plans going forward. Plus Montreal is still involved in the CONCACAF Championship and so wants to stay in good form for that.
The starting 11 for Montreal has changed a bit over recent time. Some of that due to injury while others because coach Frank Klopas is feeling out what he has on his roster. There would be some changes in the starting line-up for this game against Houston. They were missing their captain Patrice Bernier (with the Canadian National Team), Justin Mapp (injured) and Hassoun Camara (suspension). Fullback Karl W. Ouimette remained in Montreal due to the death of this sister this week from leukemia. The Impact would wear black armbands in the game in honor of Julie Ouimette. To make up for the absence of Bernier Felipe and Calum Mallace would be playing the holding midfield positions. Rookie Eric Miller would fill in at the right fullback position for Camara.
Houston also was missing a few regulars with their number one keeper Tally Hall (injury), Kofi Sarkodie (suspension) and striker Will Bruin (injury) all out of the game. The loss of Hall to an ACL injury is especially tough as he is very important to the team and won the team MVP award last season. Filling in for him was Tyler Deric, who has been with the team for a few years, but not really played due to Hall’s excellence.
The two teams have built up quite a rivalry over the past couple of years. Montreal has never won in Houston over their two seasons in the MLS. The rivalry boiled over last year in the playoffs and resulted in two Impact players being shown red cards. On this very hot and humid evening it would come down to which team’s legs would last the longest and it ended up being the home side.
Montreal has been playing much better of late since the arrival of Ignacio Piatti. The Argentinean midfielder has provided a lift to the Impact. His almost immediate connection with striker Marco Di Vaio has provided results in regards to goal scoring and his willingness to come back deep into his own end has been a great example of hard work for his teammates.
Almost right from the beginning Houston showed their willingness to come forward in numbers to attack the Montreal net. In the 1st minute of the game the Dynamo had their first scoring chance. Omar Cummings pierced the Montreal defense along the left side then cut the ball back to Giles Barnes positioned on the edge of the penalty area. Luckily for Montreal his shot was partially deflected off an Impact defender right into the arms of keeper Evan Bush.
Not to be outdone in the 3rd minute Montreal had a strong scoring chance of their own. The play started when Bush cleared the ball along the right side to Andres Romero. Using his speed Romero got beyond the Houston defender then played a perfectly weighted cross behind the Houston defenders. Di Vaio got on the end of it controlling the ball with his right thigh. Deric came out to challenge the Italian striker. Rushed a little Di Vaio’s shot went wide of the far post. A great chance wasted.
Houston dominated possession for most of the 1st half forcing Montreal to chase them all over the pitch. This running after the Dynamo would play a role in the heavy legs Montreal suffered from in the 2nd half. Such possession and pressure resulted in a corner for Houston in the 29th minute. Veteran captain Brad Davis, who possesses one of the best left foots in the league rendering Houston quite dangerous in dead ball situations, took the corner and it was cleared momentarily. The ball was started back the other way by Cummings. Impact defender Krzysztof Krol had the ball go off of his foot, but he could not get to it. Striker Barnes beat him to the ball and then used his pace to get past Krol and then Mallace. Central defender Matteo Ferrari stopped on the play because he thought Barnes was offside giving Barnes that much more room. It was a rookie mistake by the veteran. In his defense, even Barnes glanced over at the linesman briefly as it was that close. Once close to the Montreal net he toe poked the ball past Bush and into the net off the right post. This was Barnes’ 6th goal of the season. 1-0 Houston.
Demonstrating what an odd game soccer is, Dilly Duka was suffering through his worst game as a member of the Impact. If he wasn’t giving the ball away he was knocked off it very easily. In the 40th minute he made up for his poor play by scoring a goal that tied the game at 1-1 just before the half time break. Piatti, from along the right side, played the ball across to Felipe just outside of the 18 yard box. The Houston defenders converged on him thinking he was going to shoot. The crafty Brazilian fooled them by playing a quick, short ball to his left to an unmarked Duka. Calmly Duka left footed a precise shot that beat a diving Deric to his right.
The turning point of the game for me was something that I’m sure not many thought of at the time it occurred. Coming out of the half time break Klopas took Ferrari out of the game and put in Heath Pearce. Over the past half dozen games Ferrari has been a rock in the middle of the Impact defense. Winning all balls in the air and being in the right place at the right time the veteran defender has been a big part of Montreal’s stronger play of late. Taking him out might have seemed like the right move at the time as I’m sure Klopas was saving him for the midweek game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, but what it did was destabilize the entire Montreal defense.
In the 55th minute the Piatti effect made itself felt again. Wandrille Lefevre cleared the ball to Di Vaio, who was right at midfield. Di Vaio headed the ball to his feet and then quickly played the ball through to an onrushing Piatti. For about 20 yards Piatti had two Houston defenders on his back but showed plenty of strength holding them off and keeping his balance while keeping possession of the ball. He then managed to poke the ball past Deric before summersaulting over the Houston keeper. 2-1 Montreal.
Despite Montreal holding a 2-1 lead you never really felt they were in control of the game. Houston kept pressing forward and created numerous scoring chances. The Impact was completely off balance in their own end. Eventually the pressing led to two goals in quick succession. The first was in the 60th minute. Again it was Cummings who led the attack into the Montreal end. Dribbling the ball into the Impact penalty area he played a square ball to Barnes just outside the 6 yard box. His first time shot went past a helpless Bush. 2-2.
The winning goal came in the 65th minute off a Brad Davis taken corner kick. Bush hesitated coming out to the ball and then missed it when he got there. He was probably also distracted by the oncoming hulking figure of Houston defender, David Horst. The ball fell to Ricardo Clark, who was all alone at the far post and he just had to put the ball into the empty net. 3-2 Houston.
Montreal fell apart defensively since Ferrari was taken out. His replacement Pearce had not played in a while due to injury that kept him out of play for over a month. Without Ferrari’s sage play in the back and their legs seeming to give out due to the humidity, Montreal could not maintain their lead. It was a game of ups and downs for Montreal and unfortunately the downs came at the end. With the victory and the three points Houston was now only 6 points out of a playoff position with 9 games remaining in the regular season.
The Impact’s next game is on Wednesday at Saputo Stadium against the L.A. Galaxy. This will probably be Montreal fans last chance to see Landon Donovan in person as he is retiring after this season.
-On-Field Officials: Referee – Fotis Bazakos
Assistants – Chris Strickland and Felisha Mariscal
-Goals: 1st Half:
30th minute: Houston – Giles Barnes
40th minute: Montreal – Dilly Duka
55th minute: Montreal – Ignacio Piatti
62nd minute: Houston – Giles Barnes
65th minute: Houston – Ricardo Clark
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 2
Houston – 6
-Corners: Montreal – 3
Houston – 3
-Man of the Match: Ignacio Piatti
-Final Score: Montreal – 2
Houston – 3