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Impact wins the battle, but not the war: Montreal out of NASL playoffs

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Ryan Pore scored three for the Impact... but it didn't matter
Ryan Pore scored three for the Impact... but it didn't matter

The Montreal Impact will not take part in the NASL playoffs.

Sure, the Impact did its part — crushing the last-place Atlanta Silverbacks by a 4-0 count on the final day of the regular season. But, the NSC Minnesota Stars preserved its one-point advantage over the Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot with a 2-1 win on the road over the first-place Carolina RailHawks.

The RailHawks, who clinched the top seed in NASL a month ago, have lost four in a row with nothing on the line for themselves.

With the Montreal Impact having salted away a win against the Atlanta Silverbacks by halftime — leading 3-0 at the half — odds were that a lot of Impact fans watching the webcast on the NASL’s Ustream site decided to break away and watch the Stars-Railhawks game instead. After all, with that game tied 0-0 at half — and Minnesota needing to win to ensure that it and not the Impact made the playoffs — that match had more drama for Impact fans than the Impact game itself.

And those Impact fans would have gone through an emotional rollercoaster.

Two minutes after the restart, RailHawks defender Kupono Low left his leg out at the edge of his own penalty area, and Stars’ forward Jeff Cosgriff tripped over it. The referee pointed to the penalty spot, and Kyle Altman made no mistake from the spot.

But, just two minutes after the goal, the RailHawks equalized; striker Pablo Campos got behind the back line and ran onto a perfect through ball. He rounded Stars’ keeper Joe Warren and slid the ball into an empty goal.

But, just two minutes after that, Brian Cvilikas gave the Stars the lead for good, slamming a wicked drive past keeper Brad Knighton.

In all, six minutes of hell for Montreal Impact fans, who watched their final Div.-2 season end — as the Impact is just one of two NASL teams to not make the playoffs. The Impact’s late surge had a lot to do with the players it got on loan from MLS, such as Portland’s Ryan Pore and Seattle’s Miguel Montano. With those players not coming back in 2012, this is indeed a team with question marks all over the pitch — save the goaltender — as it moves to MLS.

Evan Bush has proven he’s ready to make the jump to MLS as a No. 1 keeper, and deserves the shot.

The Impact, who captured 17 of the final 24 points on offer, dominated the last-place Silverbacks from the get-go.

In the seventh minute, Pore was allowed to come down the right side and smash a shot past Atlanta keeper Jimmy Maurer by an Atlanta defence that displayed why it’s the worst in NASL this season, giving up an average of more than two goals per game.

Montano made it 2-0 before the 20 minute mark, after a pass from former New York Red Bull Sinisa Ubiparipovic sent the Colombian in alone on goal.

Ubiparipovic was the provider on the Impact’s third goal — Pore’s second of the game. And, had Pore not missed an open header earlier in the half, he would have bagged a hat trick before the first 45 minutes had drawn to a close.

It was men vs. boys, but it didn’t matter.

Pore got his hat trick on a second-half penalty and, years from now, will be the answer to a pub trivia question. “Who was the last Impact player to score a Div.-2 goal?”

It’s not something he’d want. But it’s what he’s got. And, with the hat trick, he’s likely to win NASL Offensive Player of the Week. But, the guess is he won’t care all that much.

FC Edmonton to take on Fort Lauderdale
FC Edmonton found out who it would play in the first round of the playoffs. The Eddies, who had already wrapped up their season and knew they couldn’t move from the No. 5 seed, had to wait on the result of the match between Fort Lauderdale and FC Tampa Bay.

FCTB won 2-0, meaning Fort Lauderdale slips to the No. 4 seed and will host the Eddies next Saturday. More importantly, Strikers’ defender Cristian Arrieta was ejected and will be suspended for the playoff game against Edmonton.

NASL playoff race better than MLS playoff race

But, despite Montreal’s disappointment, this much was clear from watching the final day of the NASL regular season. Following a single table, with clear playoff races going into the final day of action, is far better than the MLS system of allowing wild cards to cross over from conference to conference.

Fans knew what Montreal and Minnesota needed to do as they entered their games. Fans understood the ramifications of every goal. They didn’t need to refer back to tables or try to figure out a complicated playoff system. It was simple. Top six teams get in. That’s it.

When it comes to a playoff system, NASL is Div.-1, and MLS is Div.-2.

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