Home MLS Montreal Impact Giovinco and Piatti show us why they’re the best players in the Eastern Conference

Giovinco and Piatti show us why they’re the best players in the Eastern Conference

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The voters placed these three New York-based players as the finalists for the 2016 MLS MVP award; NYCFC’s David Villa (23 goals), and Sacha Kljestan (six goals, 20 assists) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (24 goals) — both of the New York Red Bulls.

All three of those players will be watching the Eastern Conference finals — which will be an all-Canadian-team affair between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC.

And, when the chips are down in a big-game situation, Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco and Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti showed us why you would rather have them on your team than any of the three MVP candidates. Piatti and Giovinco proved Sunday that they are the premier gamebreakers in the Eastern Conference — and we in Canada should be looking forward to the two Designated Players going toe-to-toe in the Eastern Final that no American MLS fan wanted.

Entering the second leg of its Eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Red Bulls with a 1-0 lead, the Impact got two road goals from Piatti. The dagger came off his left foot in the 50th minute, a wonderful left-footed drive that Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles got maybe a piece of his fingertip on, but couldn’t keep from going in under the bar. Piatti’s insurance goal, which finished a nice three-way passing play between Dominic Oduro, Didier Drogba and himself, was the icing on the cake. Montreal won the second leg 2-1, the tie 3-1 on aggregate.

Compare that to the performances of Kljestan and Wright-Phillips. Kljestan had a golden chance to bring the semifinal level with a first-half penalty-kick opportunity. Montreal keeper Evan Bush guessed correctly and pawed away Kljestan’s effort, but it needs to be stated that the Red Bulls’ midfielder hit the ball hip-high, which is ideal for the keeper. When you take a penalty, you either go down low or upstairs. Hitting it middle of the net, height-wise, makes it easier for the keeper to get to the ball in his dive, no matter the speed at which it is dispatched.

Wright-Phillips got what amounted to a consolation goal, but for most of the two legs, you could find him in the back pockets of Impact centre backs Laurent Ciman and Hassoun Camara. BWP simply didn’t ask enough questions of the centre backs, and his off-the-ball runs didn’t buy him any space.

Piatti’s regular-season totals weren’t as gaudy as the two Red Bulls’ MVP candidates (17 goals, six assists), but we’ve seen this script before from the Argentine. When it matters most, he plays out of his skin.

At Yankee Stadium, the reigning MLS MVP showed everyone in the league why leaving him off the ballot in 2016 was a farcical snub. Despite missing six games, Giovinco scored 17 times and assisted 15 others.

The Reds led 2-0 on aggregate going into the second leg against NYCFC. Within 18 minutes, it was a 4-0 aggregate score. Giovinco twisted and turned and then fired a shot into the corner of the goal to stun the Yankee Stadium crowd, then drew a penalty – which he converted — after leaving NYCFC defender Frederic Brilliant little choice but to stick his leg out.

Giovinco finished the hat trick — and a 5-0 TFC win on the day — with a late goal. Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio also got goals in the rout.

Meanwhile, David Villa reminded us of another special Spanish Designated Player of days past — Mista. We can still argue that he shouldn’t have even played in the second leg after he lashed out at TFC’s Armando Cooper in game one. But it was to TFC’s advantage that Villa did play. He dove. He gave up on balls. His body language showed off a special kind of misery. He was everything a franchise player — and an MVP candidate — shouldn’t be.

Soccer fans should savour the fact that the best two players in the Eastern Conference will still be playing. It’s just that neither of them play in New York.

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