On a rather overcast night the Montreal Impact got themselves out of the dark and into (for the time being) a playoff spot in the MLS. By continuing their sparkling play at home (6-2-1) within the friendly confines of Stade Saputo they temporarily moved themselves up to 6th place in the East. If the playoffs were to start tomorrow Montreal would take place. Not bad for a team with many bumps in the road this season.
The season has not been an easy one so far for the Impact. Much has gone on on the field and even more, or so it seems, off the field. They have had to deal with the long term injury of an important cog in midfielder Justin Mapp who has been out since the very beginning of the serious with a serious elbow injury, being overtaxed by Champions League games at the very beginning of the season, many new faces in the line-up having to get used to playing with one another, traded for fullback Ambroise Oyongo taking a long time to join the team due to a mix up in his contract, veteran central defender speaking out against the club and demanding a trade through the media, and most important player so far this season Laurent Ciman having a conflict with the club over verbally agreed upon aid coming to his 5-year-old autistic daughter not being carried through with. Regardless of what they say in the media, these kind of constant disruptions has to have an effect on the players. That they are staying focused on the job at hand says a lot about the character on the Montreal team. Say what you will about this team and their lack of designated players, holding midfielders or quality up front, they have found a way to stay in the playoff picture despite all stacked against them.
Seattle is a team that has been the model of how to build a consistently strong team throughout their time in the MLS. They draft the right players and sign the right ones to fill out the holes. Since their expansion into the MLS in 2007 as the league’s 15th team they have had players such as Fredy Montero, Kasey Keller, Mauro Rosales, Freddie Ljunberg, and Eddie Johnson put on the uniform. That strong line-up continues today with Clint Dempsey, Lamar Neagles, Obafemi Martins, Osvaldo Alonso, and Chad Marshall. In other words they are full value for their 5th place ranking in the Western Conference.
That being said if there was a good time to play them this past Saturday night was it for Montreal. First of all, they were taking them on at fortress Saputo, a place where Montreal has an excellent record. In all honesty, Montreal is a completely different squad when they play at home. On top of that due to injuries or Gold Cup obligations, Seattle would be missing Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Brad Evans, and Marco Pappa. This was to be a critical match in regards to the playoff aspirations for both sides.
Montreal was coming into the game with a pedestrian 2-3-1 record while Seattle was struggling at 1-5. They seemed to be ripe for the taking. Seattle seemed to sense their disadvantage so their strategy was to sit back and defend while waiting for a counterattack. As such, for most of the game Montreal enjoyed the majority of the possession of the ball while Seattle was content to just track players. The possession stat was lopsided with Montreal enjoying 61% of the ball to Seattle’s 39%. Many times an Impact player would get the ball and due to the Sounders passivity would have plenty of time to find an open teammate to get the ball to.
The game remained scoreless over the 1st half of play, but it was not for Montreal’s lack of trying. In the 21st minute, the wonderful dribble Ignacio Piatti fooled his marker with a sharp cut to his right. Then he raised his head to see a streaking Dominic Oduro and placed a nicely weighted ball down the left side for the Ghanaian to run onto. Oduro went in on Seattle (and former Impact) keeper, Troy Perkins, who had to come up with a strong save to keep the game scoreless. Oduro was left clutching his head for what might have been.
Seattle really had very little offense in this game and the most bored man in the building was probably Impact keeper, Evan Bush. He was not forced to make a save this game with zero shots on goal by Seattle. The two semi chances they did muster up were both off of headers. Their best was early on in the 2nd at the 56th minute mark when Chad Barrett’s ball found a loosely marked Neagles. He got a head on it, but it went harmlessly wide of the post to Bush’s left.
Play continued the same with Montreal possessing the ball, but not creating a ton in the offensive third of the pitch for most of the 2nd half as well. Their best chance before the goal was in the 81st minute off a Seattle turnover. A rare mistake by Osvaldo Alonso resulted in the ball coming right to Piatti just outside the Sounders’ box. Piatti provided the crowd with a reason to get out of their seats when he dribbled past a couple of Seattle defenders and then cut back to his left foot for a try, but the looping shot glanced off the crossbar and harmlessly out of play.
It seemed like we were going to have a very unsatisfying 0-0 draw. Especially unsatisfying for the home team. But, as he has shown himself capable of doing, central defender extraordinaire (he has been chosen for the MLS All-Star game) Ciman, involved himself in the offensive part of the field. His incursion resulted in a foul on him by Alonso. A free kick was to be taken from 20 yards out on the left hand side of the field. Marco Donadel is the man who typically takes the team’s deadball chances and he looped one into the space just in front of the Sounders’ net. The bald man from Belgium rose up above everyone else to get his dome to the ball and firmly redirected it past a helpless Perkins with just 2 minutes left in regular time. Ciman had earned 3 points for his side. He was the true hero of the game for either side. Not only does he direct the backline and oftentimes start off the team’s offensive forays, but he is probably the best in the league on open field slide tackles without fouling. He has that timing down to a science and he demonstrated it on a couple of occasions during this game to the crowd’s delight. It is not often that a soccer player can have the crowd chanting his name due to a defensive play. Then again Laurent Ciman is no average player. 1-0 Montreal.
For Montreal, the last minute victory meant they leapfrogged over Orlando FC into 6th position due to having more wins than the team from Florida. Next up for Montreal is a game on the road this coming Saturday evening against New York City FC, one of the team’s they are fighting for a playoff position with, at Yankee Stadium.
-On-Field Officials: Referee – Chris Penso
Linesmen – George Gansner and Apolinar Mariscal
-Goals: 2nd Half:
88th minute: Montreal – Laurent Ciman assisted by Marco Donadel
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 6
Seattle – 0
-Corners: Montreal – 2
Seattle – 1
-Man of the Match: Laurent Ciman – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal – 1
Seattle – 0