Home MLS Montreal Impact Impact leaves it late, but club returns to winning ways

Impact leaves it late, but club returns to winning ways

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Things couldn’t have worked out much better for the Montreal Impact in its match against the Eastern Conference–leading Sporting Kansas City side at Saputo Stadium. It took every one of the 90 minutes of scheduled time and all but 30 seconds of the additional seven minutes of play that followed, but the Impact emerged on the desired end of a 1-0 score, drawing to within a single point of their guests on the MLS Eastern Conference ladder.

“It was a happy ending,” offered head coach Marco Schallibaum, who managed to remain on the sidelines for the entire game rather than making an early exit as he has in both games against SKC played earlier in the schedule. “When you change someone to bring on fresh legs and the guy you send on gets the goal, there’s a bit of luck involved. We deserved it because we dominated the second half and managed to defeat the team that, I think, is, at the moment, the best team in MLS.”

The fresh legs belonged to rookie Blake Smith, who subbed in for Sanna Nyassi in the 80th minute and for the second time this season, potted the game-winner. He followed it up with a triple back flip.

There was a long period of less than captivating play before the fireworks that sent the crowd of 20,527 home happy. The opening 45 minutes saw the visitors take control as forward Claudio Bieler, and midfielders Soony Saad and Kei Kamara, combined to keep the pressure on the Impact defensive line with nine shots directed towards the net defended by Troy Perkins, who was named Player of the Game for his clean sheet.

Only two proved to be on target, as many as the Montreal XI took on SKC keeper Jimmy Nielsen in the opening period.

For the Impact, Justin Mapp and Nyassi were both very active in the early going, Nyassi speeding up the right side and Mapp patrolling the left flank. Both repeatedly fed forward Marco Di Vaio but it was to no avail since their passes were not often on the mark and, when they were accurate, the Italian striker had difficulty connecting or completing the play.

In the 18th minute Di Vaio received a Mapp pass near the top of the 18-metre box. The Impact’s leading marksman spun and, shooting wide, sent the ball heading into the stands well to the left of the net defended by Jimmy Nielsen.

Perkins kept the Impact in the game, stopping all four shots that made it to him, the most challenging being a diving save on a Bieler attempt in the 23rd and thwarting the forward in the last minute of the opening half.

Montreal showed a bit more initiative in the second stanza but still needed perfection from Perkins to stay within striking distance.

Di Vaio beat two defenders shortly after play resumed and stood with the ball at his feet just above the penalty dot only to have a Kansas City defender clear it away.

Bieler had another kick at the can in the 52nd, his bouncer corralled by Perkins who had to leap to his left to do the job. Two minutes later Perkins was on the pitch, bleeding from the corner of his right eye following an aerial collision with Kamara’s forearm. Three minutes later, repairs completed, he was back between the uprights.

The tide slowly turned as the minutes ticked away. Andres Romero replaced Felipe at midfield in the 66th minute and it was the Impact’s turn to draw blood in the 70th as midfielder Patrice Bernier earned a yellow card for his midfield tackle on Oriol Rosell that briefly sidelined the Sporting defender for repairs of his own.

In the 74th, Montreal defender Hassoun Camara got the ball to Mapp with the ensuing shot finding its way into Nielsen’s midsection.

Seth Sinovic, who earned his own yellow in the game’s opening minute, had his centring pass cleared away by Camara in the 78th. A minute later Bernier appeared to be getting set to spring Di Vaio but dropped his pass behind the former Bologna star as another scoring chance came to naught.

Smith came on for Nyassi in the 80th as Schallibaum replaced speed with speed, a decision that paid dividends as the last few seconds ticked off the clock.

Three minutes into added time his drive was tipped over the horizontal by Nielsen. With about thirty seconds left to tick away, Camara dribbled up the right side, centring to Di Vaio. The Italian flicked the ball to Smith rather than take one himself and the Texas native put it into the mesh.

The goal, Smith’s second of the season so far, was followed by a triple back flip. More than a few of those in attendance missed out on both the goal and the tumbling run since they began streaming towards the exits when the scheduled 90 minutes had elapsed.

“The win was huge for us today,” declared the rookie midfielder. “We fought for the full 90 and we were fortunate enough to get the three points.”

Smith denied he was impatient to be among the starting XI.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I’m where the coaches want me right now and I’m doing what I can to help out the team. Obviously I’d love to be playing more but right I’m happy with where I am and happy to be getting the minutes.”

Midfielder Bernier said that the win was a big one and very positive for the team’s morale, “especially at the end with all the efforts we made. After a first half when we were beaten in terms of possession we couldn’t ask for anything more than to come back and finish the game the way we did. The three points bring us to within one of Kansas City. Everyone’s got a big smile, and we feel confident after a win against a very good team.”

Head coach Schallibaum also had some words of praise, both for his team as a whole as well as for the youngster that ended the impact’s five-game winless skein.

“He’s a young player with six months in MLS. He comes very close sometimes to being in the starting XI,” he offered. “He’s learned a lot and he’s a good guy. I’m happy for all the team. They worked very hard and we win together. Tonight he made the difference and I’m very happy for him.”

The Impact next game is August 3 in Washington against DC United, presently and for the foreseeable future the last place team in the Eastern Conference with 10 points in 21 games.

THROW-INS: The Impact U21 side left for France on July 24 for a 10-day stay. The team will train at the AS St. Etienne facility and play three games while overseas, taking on the reserve squads from its hosts as well as those from Olympique Lyon and Servette FC Geneva, a club formerly coached by Marco Schallibaum.

• Two Impact players get to blow out birthday candles this week. Defender Dennis Iapichino is 23 today while goalkeeper Troy Perkins celebrates his 32nd on Monday. Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer turns 23 a day later.

• Only goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and forward Claudio Bieler have seen action in every one of SKC’s 21 league matches so far this season. Troy Perkins, Jeb Brovsky and Patrice Bernier are the Impact players to appear in all 19 of their MLS games

• Two members of the Impact will have a busier upcoming week than the rest of the team. Forward Marco Di Vaio and midfielder Patrice Bernier will be taking part in Wednesday’s MLS All-Star festivities in Kansas City.

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