Despite the fact that Montreal won the first game of the series 2-1 they did not go into game two in Columbus as the favourites. Their victory was just one on paper as the Crew were the better side on the day. That despite the game being played in the friendly confines of Saputo Stadium. Now they were going to have to go to enemy territory and try to hold on to their slim one goal lead.
This playoff season was the first for most players on the Impact and their new head coach, Mauro Biello. They did easily dispatch of Toronto FC in the first round. It was during an 8 day period in which they played 3 games. They were a tired side by the end of it all. Bottom line was that the Montreal side did not have to score to advance. A 0-0 score would see them advance. To that end, Biello changed his starting 11 a little. Out was Nigel Reo-Coker and in was Calum Mallace in the holding midfield position and out was the speedy Dominic Oduro and in was the workmanlike Dilly Duka.
Maybe nervous about going this deep in the playoffs for the first time the Impact decided to sit back in a defensive shell and absorb the Columbus pressure while hoping to hurt them on the counterattack. It was the wrong strategy and it did not take long for Columbus to show them the error of their ways. For the first few minutes of the game the ball was entirely in the Impact end. It only took 4 minutes for Kei Kamara and his head to show that Columbus was going to take advantage of every Montreal misstep. Fullback Waylon Francis got a ball deep in the Montreal end courtesy of playmaking midfielder Federico Higuain and was given too much space on his favoured left foot by Duka. Francis lobbed a cross into the Montreal 6 yard box. Kamara got up above everyone to forcefully head the ball down forcefully not allowing Impact keeper, Evan Bush, any chance at it. 1-0 Columbus.
Kamara is the talisman of this team of no names. No names who play very well together within a solid system. He is a true striker – a physically strong finisher. Some criticism was sent his way after the first game as he was invisible. Kamara only managed one shot on the Impact goal in game number one. Montreal’s central defenders, Victor Cabrera and Laurent Ciman, did an excellent job controlling the Crew’s most dangerous scoring threat. He showed early on in this game that he was going to make his mark on this series. He could have had several goals on this day. Not long after notching the opening mark he once again got his head on a cross and beating a frozen Bush only to see his header strike the crossbar.
After this poor start Montreal changed their tactics over the last 15 minutes of the 1st half. They became the dictators of pace and were often first on the ball. Much of the play was now in the Columbus end. Montreal was creating chances coming closer and closer to tying the game. Ignacio Piatti had chances in the 29th and 39th minutes. Marco Donadel found the target forcing Crew keeper Steve Clark into making a good save. Finally, in the 40th minute Columbus cracked under the constant pressure. Donadel’s shot and subsequent save by Clark led to a corner. The Italian took the corner and a goalmouth scramble ensued. Both Ciman and Cabrera had a crack at poking the ball into the net. The Crew defenders could not clear the ball and it finally fell to Duka, a former player for the Crew, and he pushed it into the net. 1-1. Replays later showed Duka to be offside, but neither the linesman nor referee saw it.
With the goal Montreal once again had the aggregate lead, 3-2. They now in the 2nd half fell back into a defensive shell moving almost all behind the ball at all times to defend. Now you could criticize coach and players for this move, but it is the natural one. No matter the sport or team most teams when in elimination games fall back on this strategy on just clinging to their lead. For most of the 2nd half it looked like the Impact was going to be successful at it.
In the 77th minute Ethan Finlay scored on a rebound after Bush made a fantastic one arm save off substitute and former Impact player, Jack McInerney. 2-1 Columbus. The goal and no subsequent goals meant that we were going to overtime with both teams having scored 3 goals in the aggregate series.
Late in the 2nd half Biello had subbed in Hassoun Camara for Duka and Nigel Reo-Coker for captain Patrice Bernier. They were to shore up his side defensively. However, it was these defensive players that led to the downfall of Montreal. Camara had troubles defensively containing midfield substitute Cedrick Mabwati the entire rest of the game. The 5’6” winger used his speed and dribbling skills to get by Camara on several occasions only to see Montreal’s central defenders or Bush to stymie things. Finally in the 111th minute he was able to get by Camara and then put up a cross towards the back post. Kamara was there marked by the much smaller Donny Toia. Easily Kamara rose above Toia and headed a looping ball back over Bush towards the empty near side of the net. 3-1 Columbus. No further goals, despite a couple of chances by both Piatti and Reo-Coker, meant game, series and season over for the Impact.
It was an up and down game for Montreal with down winning out. The result was a 4-3 aggregate victory for the Crew. They will move on to the finals against the New York Red Bulls. In all honesty the deserving team won. The Impact’s in many ways impressive season is over. It was exciting and they gave fans plenty of wonderful moments with the end of the season being ruled by the signing of Didier Drogba and the early part dominated by their deep Champions League run. I am sure that there were many disappointed players in the visitor’s dressing room as they believed they could go on a deep run into the playoffs.
-Goals: 1st Half:
4th minute: Columbus – Kei Kamara assisted by Waylon Francis
40th minute: Montreal – Dilly Duka assisted by Victor Cabrera
77th minute: Columbus – Ethan Finlay
111th minute: Columbus – Kei Kamara assisted by Cedric Mabwati
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 5
Columbus – 4
-Corners: Montreal – 8
Columbus – 5
-Final Score: Montreal – 1
Columbus – 3