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Draw eliminates Impact from playoff contention

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The official “wait till next year” mantra can now be uttered throughout the Montreal Impact camp.

The Impact’s thin playoff hopes came to an end Saturday, as it and the Houston Dynamo, which has not lost at home this season, played to a 1-1 draw that neither team wanted.

The Dynamo needed a win to consolidate its fifth-place spot; but now, the Dynamo are just two points up on the Columbus Crew, which plays Sunday. The Impact needed a win to stay in the playoff race.

So, with the teams tied, the final 10 minutes (and three minutes of stoppage time) were played by two teams who EACH looked like it was down a goal.

It was a frantic finale which saw Impact coach Jesse Marsch receive his walking papers for protesting after striker Sanna Nyassi was ruled not to have been fouled by Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell in the box.

And, Houston striker Brian Ching, who was traded back to the Dynamo after being selected in the Expansion Draft by Montreal, chipped the ball into the back of the goal with the last kick of the game. But, after a lengthy discussion between the officials, what the Dynamo thought was a winning goal was correctly ruled out for offside. Cam Weaver brushed the ball with his head before it fell to Ching, who began his run on the initial through-ball. If the ball doesn’t touch Weaver, Ching is on. If it does, he is off. And, to the credit of the officials, who are often maligned, they talked about it and got it right.

But the stars of that frantic final 10 minutes were the keepers. Houston keeper Tally Hall stopped the Impact’s Justin Mapp on the three-on-one counterattack. Montreal keeper Troy Perkins made a point-blank save on Ching just minutes after Weaver had rolled a shot off the post.

Perkins was superb throughout the 90 minutes, proof that the Impact made the right move to trade the erratic (and injury prone) Donovan Ricketts to Portland for Perkins. Montreal would not have had the chance to draw level had Perkins not made several outstanding stops, including a sprawling save on Macoumba Kandji, pushing a shot from inside the box off the post.

But, while Perkins has proved to be a wonderful addition, central defender Alessandro Nesta continues to look a mere shadow of the player who could once call himself the best centre back on the planet. Houston’s first-half opener saw Nesta get turned inside out by Calen Carr, who had burst in from the left side. Carr then squared the ball for Will Bruin to tap home. Nesta should never have allowed Carr to cut into the area in the first place, but the Italian defender chose to back off rather than stand up to Carr — one of the many, ahem, interesting decisions Nesta made in the half, before being taken out after 45 minutes. On too many occasions, Nesta hoofed the ball out of his own end, panicking rather than trying to make a play on the ball.

Think back a month, when Nesta was absolutely taken to the cleaners by Columbus forward Federico Higuain. Too many times, Nesta has been old and slow, not suave and sophisticated. And he’s an example of what Marsch has to worry about for 2013; the Impact has a very old defensive backline that was built to push for the playoffs in 2012, not to look towards the future. Now that the playoff hopes have burned, what does Marsch do with the elder statesman of Nesta, Matteo Ferrari and the always-injured Nelson Rivas eating up salary space? Together, they are too slow to be a credible MLS defensive unit.

The Impact got its equalizer in the second half, when a wonderful through ball from Marco Di Vaio caught Nyassi in stride. Unlike the first half, when Nyassi was sent in alone but stumbled over the ball and hesitated, Nyassi cut across Houston defender Boswell, got into the clear – and then had the presence of mind to stick with the play and stuff the rebound into an open goal after Hall had made the initial save.

But, for the Impact’s playoff hopes, it wasn’t enough. And though the Dynamo have yet to lose at BBVA Compass Stadium, the fact that the home team was without star playmaker and midfielder Brad Davis was a boost for Montreal that the Impact couldn’t fully take advantage of. Yes, the Impact was missing midfielder Felipe due to injury, but the Dynamo without Davis is well… a different team.

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