Expectations are a funny thing. They play with people’s minds. In regards to the Montreal Impact the fans have high ones for the team this year. And that is all because of one guy. That guy is soccer legend Didier Drogba. He joined the team part way through the season last year and with the addition of the Ivory Coast striker the team had a great run through the end of the regular season and decent incursion into the second round of the playoffs. When it became apparent that Drogba was coming back with the team for another season then the expectations rose exponentially. The fans are hungry for a cup and expect nothing less from this team.
Even without the star designated player the Impact had a strong beginning to the 2016 MLS season. The strong start found them at or around the top of the Eastern Conference. Then the team’s play suffered once Drogba joined the line-up. He was scoring, but the team’s defensive play was less than desirable. Surprising coming from a side that boasted a central defender of the calibre of Laurent Ciman and a top notch shot saver like Evan Bush. The team began a streak of ties instead of wins and slipping in the standings. Even Fortress Saputo seemed vulnerable. All this on the brink of a home game against Western powerhouses, the Los Angeles Galaxy, with a less than full roster.
With the Euros on the horizon and Copa America happening many teams in the MLS lost some of their most valuable players to their countries. Montreal is no different with Ciman joining the Belgians, Ambroise Oyongo is with the Cameroonian team and Johan Venegas with Costa Rica along with defender Donny Toia, midfielder Andrés Romero, forward Cameron Porter, midfielder Calum Mallace, defender Victor Cabrera, and midfielder Eric Alexander all out with injuries. The Montreal side is depleted and that is doubly true for the defense.
The defensive four for Montreal was going to entirely be made of people playing out of position or subs. In the middle was Wandrille Lefèvre and Hassoun Camara while on the outside were Maxime Tissot and a call-up from FC Montreal and Montreal’s first pick in this year’s draft, Kyle Fisher. The four had never played together and so some bumps in the road were to be expected.
We shouldn’t feel sorry just for the Impact as the Galaxy also was suffering from a less than full roster. Missing were striker Robbie Keane and striker Gyasi Zardes. Being one of the more desirable teams to play for in the MLS means that they still fielded a side that contained such internationally well-known names as Steven Gerrard, defender Ashley Cole and midfielder Nigel De Jong. Historically the Galaxy has been one of the league’s best teams, but has had a slow start this season. They were in 5th place in the Western Conference with a 1-1-3 record on the road.
The inexperience of the Montreal defense showed on the first Los Angeles goal. It only took 8 minutes for the Galaxy to break them down. An incursion deep into the Montreal end was followed by a couple of chip crosses and then a miscommunication between Tissot and Bush. Bush called for the ball, but a little late and Tissot got his head on the ball. It glanced off his head, leaving Bush in no man’s land and helpless when it landed at the feet of Giovani Dos Santos inside the 6 yard box. He just had to side foot it into the net for a 1-0 Los Angeles lead.
It took 18 minutes, but the home side was able to tie up the game. It came via the counterattack. Despite the fact that he had two men on him, Drogba was able to feed the ball to a streaking Dominic Oduro down the left hand side. This created a 2-on-1 for the Impact with Jelle Van Damme being the only man back to stop Oduro and Ignacio Piatti. Oduro fed the ball to Piatti who just had to slot the ball behind Galaxy keeper Brian Lowe. This was Piatti’s eighth goal of the season.
The two teams went into the break tied 1-1. In the 57th minute midfielder Lucas Ontivero, who had his strongest game of the season, scored his first goal in the MLS. He got the ball from Piatti inside the 18 yard box and did some fancy footwork to get around a couple of Los Angeles defenders before unleashing a shot into the top right corner of the net.
Before the Montreal fans had even finished celebrating the go ahead goal the Galaxy tied up the score again. Gerrard, who looked quite old for most of the game, crossed the ball to forward Mike Magee, who skillfully brought the ball down and lashed a shot a low shot past Bush.
The score remained tied 2-2 through regular time and it seemed like Montreal was going to have to settle for another tie and not the full three points. Then the impossible happened. The fourth official announced 3 minutes of extra time and it had almost run out when Montreal was given a free kick along the left hand side about 25 yards out. Drogba took the ball and placed it. Tension mounted. Would he shoot or play the ball across for one of his teammates to get on the end of? Answer was that he shot and instead of punching the ball away Rowe tried to catch it only to have the ball slip between his hands and go in the net. The celebration was on. Drogba’s shirt came off, he ran around the field before leaping into the section occupied by the Ultras. Pandemonium and the victory!
This was an important win for Montreal. First, it broke their 6 game winless streak and moved them into 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. Psychologically it was also a big victory as it was the first time in three seasons that they had defeated the Galaxy. Next up for Montreal is the away game of the two game semi-finals of the Amway Canadian Championship against Toronto FC on Wednesday, June 1.
MTL – GK-Evan Bush; D-Maxim Tissot, Hassoun Camara, Wandrille Lefèvre, Kyle Fisher; M-Marco Donadel (Patrice Bernier 37’), Kyle Bekker, Dominic Oduro (Harry Shipp 78’), Lucas Ontivero (Michael Salazar 88’), Ignacio Piatti; F-Didier Drogba
Subs not used – GK-Eric Kronberg; D-Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, Eric Alexander; F-Cameron Porter
LA – GK-Brian Rowe; D-Ashley Cole, Daniel Steres, Jelle Van Damme, Robbie Rogers; M-Emmanuel Boateng (Alan Gordon 66’), Nigel de Jong (Jeff Larentowicz 90’+2’), Sebastian Lletget (Baggio Husidic 78’), Steven Gerrard; F-Giovani dos Santos, Mike Magee
Subs not used – GK-Dan Kennedy; D-A.J. DeLaGarza, Leonardo; M-Rafael Garcia
LA – dos Santos 8’
MTL – Piatti (Oduro, Drogba) 26’
MTL – Ontivero (Piatti) 56’
LA – Magee (Gerrard, Lletget) 58’
MTL – Drogba 90’+4’
MTL – Bernier 68’
LA – Alan Gordon 90’+2’
LA – Daniel Steres 90’+4’
MTL – Didier Drogba 90’+5’
-Final Score: Montreal – 3
Los Angeles – 2