At long last, it was time for my homecoming to Stade Saputo. Your friendly neighborhood MLSFemale reporter was excited to return to Montréal for the remainder of the season … to watch the beautiful game and to see some goals!
But I should have been careful what I wished for. A red-hot Minnesota United team were in town, and they had no shortage of goals in their boots, but Montréal Impact’s offense had been sputtering along since Ignacio Piatti’s injury.
Anthony Jackson-Hamel was given a rare start, as other attacking options Maxi Urruti and Harry Novillo had failed to tally up goals. He didn’t take long to get off the mark, scoring the opening goal in the 27th second.
However, for as much as the Loons’ defense had been caught napping, Montréal would prove just as guilty. In his return from Gold Cup action, Samuel Piette played a rare miscued pass, forcing a turnover that couldn’t have been more costly — Mason Toye was essentially free on goal, and equalized.
In the 13th minute came yet another goal, as Rudy Camacho bundled home from Saphir Taïder‘s corner to score his first Bleu-Blanc-Noir goal and put the home team back ahead 2-1.
Yet the match was far from over. On a night when the defense was not up to par, another costly turnover sent Ethan Finlay free in front of Evan Bush, who came out to meet him. The two players’ bodies came together, and referee Alan Kelly awarded a penalty. The call was upheld after a VAR consultation, and Finlay converted to equalize once again as boos rained down from the stands.
It would go from bad to worse in the second half. As the Impact had gotten off to a quick start earlier, Minnesota were not to be outdone, and Toye notched his second goal, pulling his team ahead 3-2. It would prove to be the game-winning goal, but the controversy was not over.
In the 52nd minute, Taïder’s cross hit a Minnesota defender on the elbow, and as the team and fans implored Kelly to consult VAR again, he was having none of it. Assistant coach Robert Duverne was ejected for his reaction to the incident.
Montréal continued to pepper the Minnesota goal area with shots and crosses, but to no avail. Visiting keeper Vito Mannone was called on to make several excellent saves, yet at the end, the Impact were unable to make up for a sequence of disappointing defensive mistakes.
Now Montréal must shift gears, as they are to travel to York 9 FC of the Canadian Premier League in the quarter-final round of the Canadian Championship competition on Wednesday. In MLS competition, they return to Stade Saputo on Saturday, July 13th for a match that has been circled on everyone’s calendar … versus the much-loathed Toronto FC.
After 3 long weeks off for some much-needed rest and recovery during the Gold Cup, the Montréal Impact were back in action Wednesday night at Stade Saputo. Although the break had allowed several players to recover from injury and return to the lineup, the Impact were still short 2 players on the bench. Visiting Portland Timbers were in a similar situation, as they’d done a full squad rotation and had not even brought a full team.
As Orji Okwonkwo and Bacary Sagna returned following injury absences, there remained several question marks around the Bleu-Blanc-Noir. How rusty would the team be? How would they adjust to a 3-4-3 formation, a departure from the usual 4-3-3? Would the players returning from injury be fit enough to contribute meaningfully?
The Impact wasted no time in affirming their desire to create scoring chances. Having referred to the offensive quality as “sterile” or “non-existent” at several points throughout the season, it was truly a breath of fresh air to watch the team set up camp in the attacking third. Okwonkwo and Sagna were notably effective, combining with a chemistry that made it look as though they had played together for months.
After a littany of near misses, Sagna reacted quickly to intercept a pass, deftly sending Okwonkwo behind the defense in the 28th minute. The Nigerian striker put on the afterburners to find himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, and made no mistake, thumping the ball into the roof of the net.
The Impact started the second half a little lethargically, and were made to pay when the Timbers floated in a free kick that Tomas Cocechny headed home to tie the match at 1-1 in the 53rd minute. Montréal promptly woke up and began to play with the intensity they showed in the first half. They were rewarded with the team’s best goal of the season so far, when Victor Cabrera sought out captain Saphir Taïder. Taïder hooked the pass back to Okwonkwo who, from the top of the box, struck the ball on the volley mid-turn, rocketing it into the top corner to score a screamer of a match-winner.
Although the match was very pleasing to watch from a Montréal perspective, especially given how light the squad remains, this 2-1 result should also be taken with a grain of salt. Portland’s approach with a fully rotated squad signified that they were willing to let this match go. Winning a home match is essential, but there will be far stiffer competition to come, and certainly before many Impact players have returned to the lineup.
In the spirit of the condensed schedule, Montréal are off to Mercedes Benz Stadium, where they’ll take on reigning champions Atlanta United who are missing a few of their own key players, but still a tremendously strong team. Yet if the Impact show up with the same hunger that they demonstrated versus the Timbers, anything is possible!
As many of you may not know, I’m a teacher by day. Here in the Great White North, we have reached the end of the school year, so it’s time to hand out report cards to the kids before I can kick back and spend my summer at Stade Saputo.
The spirit of the season has inspired me to give a report card to the team at this halfway point in the the season. In lieu of giving individual grades, players will be divided into 3 categories: Exceeding Expectations, Making the Grade, More Effort Required. Players who have featured in fewer than 5 matches/500 minutes will be exempt from grading as there is an insufficient body of work to assess due to excessive absence. (#teachertalk).
Samuel Piette — I doubt the Bulldog from Repentigny expected to become the de facto captain for the Impact in Nacho Piatti’s extended absence. However, he has represented everything a team captain should embody: strong work ethic, leaving it all on the pitch, keeping a cool head, and being a shining ambassador for the club.
Zakaria Diallo — The central defender had spent the entirety of the 2018 season sidelined by a torn ACL, so expectations for him may have been as simple as “stay healthy.” He has done just that and his aerial prowess has proven crucial as the Impact defend set pieces.
Omar Browne — This shock signing screamed of desperation as Piatti disappeared from the lineup. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, many wondered if he was even worth the International Spot the Impact had to buy to sign Browne. We only had a very small sample size to base his performances on before coming to the team, but his contributions, especially in a sterile offense, have been a breath of fresh air.
Shamit Shome — What a surprise Shome’s rise to Starting XI status has been this season! Signed as a 2017 second-round Superdraft pick, Shome had largely been ignored by 2 Impact coaches until April. The injury-ravaged squad allowed him a series of starts, which the central midfield seized with aplomb. His vision for a pass makes up for a lack of pure technique.
Zachary Brault-Guillard — Get out your chequebook, Joey Saputo! The Lyon loanee is a modern fullback in every sense of the word. Fast, young, hungry, keen to contribute to the attacking phase of play, ZBG has been a more than adequate backup to Sagna, from whom he is undoubtedly learning a great deal.
Making the Grade
Saphir Taïder — The Algerian DP can be the best player on the pitch, or he can be a hindrance to the team. Taïder lacks the consistency he played with last season, and continued to play through an injury for several weeks. The team’s final match before the Gold Cup break, a 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders, where he scored both goals, was probably Taïder’s best performance of the season. Here’s hoping the break allows him the rest and recovery to return to his best self.
Victor Cabrera — Cabrera has made a regular return to the starting XI this season alongside Diallo. He is still known for the risky tackles. When they pay off, he looks like an All-Star player. When they don’t, his teammates are left in hot water. Maybe it’s a different pairing, maybe it’s just luck, but Cabrera has acquitted himself admirably thus far.
Micheal Azira — Having been bumped from the starting XI by Shome’s more offensive qualities, Azira has proven to be a serviceable, if unremarkable, substitute/rotation player.
Orji Okwonkwo — It remains to be seen if Okwonkwo is best suited to a winger or a central striker role, as the team’s needs have kept him on the wings for the beginning of the season. Okwonkwo’s technique and speed have impressed so far, but he’s been sidelined a few times by injury, and we’d like to see him stay healthy.
Bacary Sagna — What the veteran lacks in stamina, he makes up for with cool decision making. Having had a revolving door of partners on the right side of the pitch, Sagna has done his best to develop chemistry with whoever he’s paired with. However, he’s been a victim of the travel-heavy start to the condensed season and is out injured.
Jukka Raitala — The Finnish army knife continues to slot in wherever needed. Rarely looking uncomfortable, Raitala does not make showy tackles when simpler work does the trick.
Evan Bush — Bush stood on his head last season, setting a team record for saves, and a personal record for shutouts. He hasn’t been as rock-steady so far, but is still proving his worth as a veteran in the squad.
Struggling with their Tasks
Harry Novillo — I don’t think much needs to be said here. Novillo was signed on Rémi Garde’s promise that, although he has much ability, his attitude and off-pitch behaviour were what had led Novillo to the Malaysian second division — but he’s changed! Turns out that might not be the case … Frequently injured or ill, Novillo has had little chance to showcase his abilities, and Garde himself has said the player still needs to demonstrate more professionalism.
Maxi Urruti — It seems cruel to classify Urruti as a player who isn’t doing enough. He runs his guts out without fail every match. However, he’s a striker with only one goal this season (a penalty), and who still looks a bit lost in the box. After 2 seasons of toothless strikers, Impact fans are antsy for something more clinical.
Daniel Lovitz — Nicknamed “Marcelovitz” last season, Daniel Lovitz earned his first USMNT call-up in the January camp. Unfortunately, he returned a shadow of the overlapping, attack-minded player we saw previously. He has played a far more conservative game thus far, and seems to have had the confidence drained out of him.
As I always tell concerned parents at our conferences, this is just a progress report, not a definitive grading! There is still plenty of time for the players who have disappointed so far to improve. Here’s hoping that they rise to the challenge!
Most recent results: 5/18: Montréal Impact v NE Revolution 0-0, 5/11: Montréal Impact v FC Cincinnati 2-1, 4/13: Montréal Impact v Columbus Crew 1-0
It is no secret to anyone who follows MLS. Sure, the coach prepares his tactics and sends out the strongest team at his disposal. Sure, it is an eleven-man team, not a one-man team. But in Montréal, there is one particular player who consistently makes the difference between a loss and a draw, or a draw and a win. That overwhelming influence falls on the shoulders of Ignacio Piatti.
The Impact have been incredibly lucky. In Piatti’s time with the club he has missed remarkably few matches due to injury. However, the 2019 campaign has not been so kind to the player.
Following the third match of the season, when Piatti scored his second and third goals for the team, he was sidelined for a total of ten matches due to injury, and then a setback in his rehabilitation.
For those of us who had followed the team since his 2015 arrival, we began to sing the familiar chorus of “No Piatti, No Party” — losing your leading goalscorer and team MVP for nearly a third of the MLS campaign is bound to hurt anyone, but when a team is so dependent on one player to provide their goals, it hurts even more.
The Impact’s 4-4-2 record in Piatti’s absence came as a surprise to just about everyone on the outside looking in, particularly taking into account that seven of those matches took place on the road. Although coach Rémi Garde and the players have preached a collective effort and mentality, history was not on their side.
During Piatti’s absence,the Impact have both recorded their first-ever MLS regular season win at Red Bull Arena, and have also been humiliated with a 7-1 drubbing in Kansas City. They’ve recorded six shutouts, but have also only scored 9 goals in the aforementioned time period.
In the absence of their primary goalscorer, all eyes have been on the Impact’s more offensive-minded players to see who would pick up Piatti’s torch. Indeed, Omar Browne provided flashes of technique and scored a goal before falling to injury. Anthony Jackson-Hamel got off the mark before de facto starting striker Maxi Urruti. Urruti, remains stuck at one goal on the season, despite notching five assists.
Garde’s former protegé, Harry Novillo, has been a resounding disappointment, while Bologna loanee Orji Okwonkwo has used speed and power to overcome a series of fullbacks on the right wing. Still, all of that potential has by and large fallen short in that crucial moment in front of the goal.
Undoubtedly, the saving grace for the Bleu-Blanc-Noir is the fact that the team has been more defensively sound this season. Although the team has been on the receiving end of several results that are anything but flattering, Evan Bush is already more than halfway toward catching up with his personal best 10 shutouts that were recorded last season.
Again, it feels wrong to complain about a totally respectable record, taking into account how many other players on the team are carrying injuries and not playing at full fitness. Yet somehow, it still doesn’t feel like enough. The Impact’s third place in the Eastern Conference feels far from set in stone, especially with many teams climbing up the rankings with matches in hand.
With Piatti’s return, here’s hoping his presence is the impetus for the Impact to get their scoring mojo back before the mass exodus of players for the impending Gold Cup.
On Friday evening, the Montréal Impact invited season ticket holders to their annual season launch event at the MTelus Theatre. About 1,500 of the most fervent fans were on site to participate in a Q&A session with the new president, Kevin Gilmore, head coach, Rémi Garde, and administrative director, Patrick Leduc. They also became the first to see the Impact’s 2019 home kit in person, as the entire team (including trialists) were presented to the public.
Due to a nasty case of living in another province, I was unable to attend, but the team was good enough to provide a live stream of the event. All of the team’s supporter groups had a strong contingent in attendance, and at several intervals, they could be heard singing and chanting in support of le Bleu-Blanc-Noir.
During the Q&A session, the technical staff tackled questions submitted by fans. It goes without saying that none of the questions were particularly difficult, and none of the responses were particularly revealing, as this is meant to be a feel-good event to get folks excited about the upcoming season.
A question of particular interest was whether it is worth the effort to develop players through our academy if the coach doesn’t use them. This question was tackled by both Leduc and Garde, who stated that they have been working together to identify how best to integrate homegrown talent into the squad. Garde’s experience at Olympique Lyonnais will prove helpful – but local players simply will not be inserted into the lineup for the sake of playing them.
After a truly disappointing Canadian Championship performance in 2018, Garde promised he is taking the competition (the only way for a Canadian team to access the CONCACAF Champions’ League) extremely seriously this year. Garde also feels that this year’s squad is more ambitious and more confident than the team with which he entered the 2018 season and that they are much closer to their first MLS Cup this year.
In order to get fans excited, and to get them talking about the team, it was high time to introduce the 2019 Montréal Impact squad and the new kit. Each player was announced individually by match commentator Frédéric Lord, and they walked through the crowd to high-fives and raucous cheers from their adoring public.
The previous home jersey, full blue and black stripes with a blue back was so universally admired by Montréal fans and league rivals alike, it would undoubtedly be hard to top.
The new look continues the beloved stripe motif, but it fades to black at the bottom of the jersey. Additionally, the back is black instead of blue. The quadrant which harkens to the flag of Montréal is at the top of the back, filled in with the IMFC letters in lieu of the symbols of the town. 1642 Montréal’s iconic North Star bell, known throughout the league, is also present on the jersey.
The city of Montréal was rather bereft of hope following the Impact’s humiliating road defeat to hotly pursuing DC United. As the week leading up to the match versus Columbus Crew wore on, and Ignacio Piatti remained absent from training, fans grew increasingly morose at the thought of facing another powerful conference rival without their most crucial player.
As the previous match had been a “must win” for the Impact, and they had quite spectacularly bottled it, it became all the more important to take 3 points from the Crew.
Lo and behold, despite serious injury concerns, Piatti donned the captain’s armband and started the match. However, a sharp increase in his passing rate indicated that he was not at 100% fitness.
Given the massacre the Bleu-Blanc-Noir suffered in their previous match, it was impossible to say if they were going to use that result as fuel to perform, or if the players were still licking their wounds. As Columbus called Evan Bush into action a few times early in the match, optimism was hard to come by.
However, as the Impact began to find their bearings in the game, Alejandro Silva’s cross was deflected off a Crew defender’s arm. Referee Alan Kelly elected to consult VAR and awarded a penalty to the Impact. De facto penalty striker Piatti handed the ball off to Saphir Taïder and the Algerian scored his seventh goal of the season.
Momentum then swung in favour of the Impact, as in the last moments of the first half, Silva channeled his inner Piatti and made light of the 5 defenders surrounding him to finish a brilliant individual effort with his fifth goal of the season.
Columbus undoubtedly saw more of the ball in the second half of the game, and they penetrated Montréal’s defense more than coach Rémi Garde probably liked. However, Bush came up massive every time and equalled a personal record to claim his 9th clean sheet with 9 saves, several of which required great reflexes from the keeper.
To put a cherry on the sundae, Piatti’s dedication to the team despite his injury was rewarded when he scored off a classic counter-attack in the 59th minute to seal the scoreline at 3-0.
For the Impact, a convincing win at home against a very well-coached team of great quality was the perfect response to their humiliation in DC. However, DC United remain a mere 2 points behind the Impact with 2 games in hand, meaning the Impact have to hope that DC drop points in their remaining matches while performing flawlessly themselves.
Their next test will undoubtedly be a difficult one – recently eliminated rivals Toronto FC will be in town on October 21st, and they’ll certainly be keen to spoil Montréal’s playoff hopes.
Being a fan of the Montréal Impact is like riding a roller coaster. The team can send supporters to the highest peaks of joy and excitement, as evidenced during their 2016 playoff run, but they can also cause fans to plummet into the pits of despair and disappointment, such as with last night’s non-performance against DC United.
The match was billed as “the match of the season” by many, and it was more than just a six-point match with enormous weight in the playoff race. It was an opportunity for the Impact to rise to the occasion and obtain a result in a game of crucial importance.
The humiliating 5-0 scoreline — the worst loss in Montréal’s MLS existence — indicates that once again, the Impact failed to seize their chance to put a nail in DC’s playoff coffin. Instead, the Bleu-Blanc-Noir have likely dug their own grave. Over and over, the defense was carved open like a knife through hot butter, while the visiting offense could only put 4 of their 25(!) shots on target.
As the DC goals racked up, the Impact players looked more defeated and downright disinterested in the match. Coach Rémi Garde seemed to know the match was lost, as team talisman Ignacio Piatti — whose night was truly disastrous — was substituted off for youngster Mathieu Choinière. At the end, many viewers of the match felt like they had lost two hours of their lives that they’d never get back.
To make matters more disturbing, this is not the first time in Impact history – or this season – that the Montréalais have failed to “show up” for an important match. We can recently look back to the 3-1 defeat to bitter rivals Toronto FC in late August, where the tactics were also somewhat to blame. I am inclined to also cite the 1-0 loss to a ten-man LA Galaxy back in May, which was the Impact’s first sell-out of the season and a great occasion to win over new fans.
It would be cruel to ignore the tremendous improvements that the Bleu-Blanc-Noir have experienced under Garde and his coaching staff. Piatti has become more generous with the ball, Evan Bushhas set a personal record with 117 saves this season and, generally speaking, the defense is significantly more organized than in previous seasons.
It would be equally unfair to forget that the Impact began the season in a bind, with the early loss of defender Zakaria Diallo, meaning they used an international spot and a hefty portion of the salary budget for his substitute Rod Fanni. As well, interesting and dynamic as he has been, Quincy Amarikwa was a last-minute addition to the squad after French striker Jimmy Briand backed out at the last second.
Regardless of the changes in personnel, the team has remained in the playoff picture for many weeks, yet this most recent disastrous performance shows that the spectre of the big-game mentality continues to haunt the Impact.
Is this problem something a manager can take charge of, or does it require the more specialized touch of a sports psychologist? As different managers have come and gone, and the Impact have continued to let huge results slip from their grasp, the answer seems to lie beyond the man at the helm of the ship.
With their playoff fate now well and truly out of their hands, it is time to see what mettle the Impact have within to end their season, starting when they host Columbus Crew next Sunday.
It’s that time of year. The race to the playoffs is in full swing, and it’s getting tighter with each passing match. Montréal Impact had firmly ensconced themselves into the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot after a truly complete home win against first-placed (at the time) New York Red Bulls. It was now time to take the road to face the fifth-placed Philadelphia Union in one of the many six-point matches left of the season. Travels had not been kind to Montréal this year, as they had collected a mere 8 points on the road going into the City of Brotherly Love.
Rémi Garde led with what many believe to be the strongest starting eleven presented this season. There was only one change from the 3-0 win over the Red Bulls, with Rudy Camacho returning to central defense as Jukka Raitala took the bench. Quincy Amarikwa’s physicality and dynamism, two qualities which had been sorely missing up front, was rewarded with another start for the league veteran.
Voici VOTRE XI partant pour le match de ce soir contre @PhilaUnion
After a tepid start, the Impact were caught sleeping on a corner, as defender Austin Trusty got the jump on his marker and scored his first career goal. Following the goal, it seemed as though the Impact had deflated, much as had been the case every time they had trailed in the scoreline this season. Indeed, Montréal had only collected one point after going behind in the scoring. As the Union enjoyed extended periods of possession, it appeared as though the Impact were going to let three crucial points slip through their fingers.
However, fans of the Bleu-Blanc-Noir would be pleasantly surprised. Following a turnover in possession, Ignacio Piatti and Alejandro Silva led a swift counterattack. So many times Silva had created a fabulous chance that was saved or missed the target, yet this time he kept his composure against onrushing keeper Andre Blake and his low shot ran into Philly’s net. Shortly before halftime, Saphir Taïder chased a rebound off Blake’s save, and poked it home to seize the lead.
Things would only get better in the second half. As the Union found it increasingly difficult to penetrate Montréal’s defense, Amarikwa’s tireless efforts were compensated with his first goal as an Impact player as he bundled home a cross from Daniel Lovitz. To put the cherry on the sundae, Silva and Piatti capped the night with yet another blistering counterattack from the top of Montréal’s 18-yard box, and Silva chipped Blake to notch his second goal of the night.
It was a classic Montréal Impact win, with a tight defense and a clinical counter allowing the Impact to depart Philadelphia with the comfort of knowing they will end the weekend in sixth place, and that the North Star Bell > the Liberty Bell.
Additionally, results elsewhere in the Eastern Conference have favoured the Impact, with the pursuing DC United and New England Revolution only picking up draws in their respective games. As the Impact keep their eyes fixed on the next match versus NYCFC, fans and pundits are bound to continue to keep one very interested eye on the standings.
At long last, Rivalry Week was upon us. This is a time Montréal Impact fans and Toronto FC fans alike look to on the calendar upon its release, because the feeling is fierce. Beyond the two clubs, beyond sport as a whole, a cultural rivalry between Montréal and Toronto has simmered for countless years. To say that rivalry matches are special ones is an enormous understatement.
As Toronto spent a large part of the season on their heels, with the Impact the higher-placed team in the Eastern Conference, fans looked toward the road match with particular delight. BMO Field is notably hostile to Montréal, with the Impact having won there only twice, but what better time was there to put a nail in the coffin of a rival’s playoff hopes?
On Saturday, Rémi Garde presented his lineup an hour before the match, and it was a baffling one. Ignacio Piatti was placed as the central striker, with Saphir Taïder shifting from central midfield to the left wing of the typical 4-3-3. I stared stupefied at such a lineup wondering if Garde was a genius or a madman. Our two Designated Players were moved out of position, and the weakened midfield core would have a Herculean task ahead of them to try and dictate play.
Voici VOTRE XI partant pour le gros match de ce soir
The fact that the lineup did not work was evident from the start. TFC’s 4-4-2 diamond populated the midfield, and it was too much for Piette, Azira and Krolicki to gain any control over play. The Impact were clearly out-of-sync, and lingered too long in making crucial decisions which led to turnovers. Their lethargic start – yet another one! – was punished by 3 TFC goals within 30 minutes of play. It was as though any play a Bleu-Blanc-Noir player attempted was the wrong one.
Shortly after the home team took a 3-0 lead, Alejandro Silva scored a wonderful counterattack goal to light a glimmer of hope that Montréal could find a way back into the match. The end of the first half would see the Impact hit the woodwork on a free kick, and have two goals disallowed for offside.
Quincy Amarikwa came on for the thoroughly overwhelmed Ken Krolicki at the start of the second half, allowing Taïder to move into a more effective role, and the Impact laid siege to the Toronto half of the field for the final 45 minutes. However, no Impact player was able to make the difference. A succession of corner kicks went unclaimed, and for the goals that needed to be scored, disturbingly few balls entered the 18-yard box, as players elected to dither around the edges until they turned over possession.
In the wake of the defeat, blame is being thrown around all over the place. Piatti had a truly disastrous evening, one of his worst in recent memory – how did he remain out there for 90 minutes? The Impact players were incredibly slow and made poor decision after poor decision – what was going through their heads? Once again, the Impact’s lack of a proper striker was glaringly obvious – how did the ball get dropped on such a crucial role to fill during the transfer window?
This match was of enormous importance, both for team pride and in the playoff race – why did Garde choose such a match to experiment with his lineup? We likely won’t get answers to many of these questions, certainly none that will satisfy Impact fans.
The Impact’s fate is essentially out of their hands now, even though they are 4 points clear of the playoff line. The teams chasing them all have at least two games in hand, as do fifth-placed Philadelphia. The Impact now have to contend with a venerable New York Red Bulls side next Saturday, who will have even less mercy for an ill-prepared team with a shaky mentality.
It seems as though the Montréal Impact love to keep fans on the edge of their seats. After several tumultuous weeks – mixed with disappointing results and the excitement of a few new signings – Chicago Fire were in town. Chicago had spent several weeks in a losing skid, but Montréal is also the team who helped the Fire break a 2-year winless road game streak back in 2016, so nobody knew how the match would go.
New arrival Bacary Sagnamade his début at right back. After nearly constant turnover at this position throughout this season, with moderate success at best, Sagna’s Premier League pedigree was a welcome change in the lineup. Of course, there were concerns about his ability to keep up having arrived less than a week before the match, with no games played since May, and at 35 years old. Most, if not all, eyes were on him.
The Impact started the match brightly as they had in their previous home match, a draw against DC United. Saphir Taïder drew a penalty from Bastian Schweinsteiger after some very attractive passing play. Ignacio Piatti subsequently hit the back of the net, putting the Impact in the lead. Much as had been the case in the DC match, having scored early, the home side seemed to take their foot off the gas. Chicago had more possession of the ball and spent a good portion of the first half buzzing around the Impact’s 18-yard box.
Worse yet, the Fire dug deep and shifted into high gear after returning from the half-time break. The Impact remained lethargic and conceded the game-tying goal after Nemanja Nikolic struck home a rebound from Evan Bush’s save. It was déjà vu for Impact fans who had seen the DC match – down to the tying goals being scored in the same minute of both games. Fans had seen this situation just two weeks ago, and it looked as though Montréal were about to give up three vital points at home.
Finally, the team woke up following the goal. SubstitutesQuincy Amarikwa, Micheal Azira and Jeisson Vargas all helped the Impact lay siege to Chicago’s offensive third. Urged on by the fans’ boisterous cheering, Montréal peppered the area around Ricardo Sanchez’s net without striking the target.
In the dying instants of the match, the Impact earned a corner. It was now or never. The noise in the stadium rose even higher. Vargas struck the dead ball into the midst of a pack of players. A Chicago head cleared the ball, and Daniel Lovitz hit it on the volley, directly into the bottom right of the net.
The stadium erupted as Lovitz took off to celebrate with pure, unadulterated joy. It had been some time since such a ruckus broke out following an Impact goal! As Jukka Raitala had done the week prior, Lovitz scored his first MLS goal, and it may well prove to be a crucial goal in the increasingly tight playoff race.
As for Sagna? He worked up and down the right side of the pitch tirelessly, despite the lack of game time he’d had leading up to the match. It is still too early for him to have the chemistry that other players share, but he certainly staked his claim to the starting right-back role, with a performance that earned him the Man of the Match Award.
Up next is another incredibly important match, of course! Not only are Montréal visiting Toronto FC, enemy number one, the points on the line are bound to have massive implications in the Eastern Conference playoff race.