It was a victory for pragmatic football, over a team that came to play, and couldn't finish. Montreal will be over-joyed at the outcome of this one. Not so, Conference leaders Columbus, who will feel their endeavours deserved more.
Had this been a boxing match, by half-time we’d have been saying, the Impact need to land a big KO punch to win, so far ahead ‘on points’ were the visitors. But that ‘big KO punch’ did arrive, on 55 mins, a 20-yarder from Harry Novillo, which he could not have struck any sweeter. The ball was in the net before Steffen could react, but no fault of the goalkeeper, whose dive was in vain.
A more likely culprit for the yellow troops, on a matching pitch, was Josh Williams, whose poor header put his central defensive partner, Mensah in trouble. Maxi Urruti’s pressure and delicate lay-back was just the invite Novillo needed.
Throughout the first-half, Montreal struggled to get to grips with a slick moving Columbus Crew, seemingly intent on showing just why they are top of the Eastern pile. Evan Bush came up big on three occasions, thwarting Robinho twice and Federico Higuain, who was central to most everything the visitors produced. His wonderfully fluid style and ability to knit the play with short passes have each been features when this fixture is played. Today was no different.
The Argentine was a little less effective after half-time, Montreal tweaking things to be (slightly) more offensive, and once they’d stolen ahead, it was always going to be more difficult for Columbus to break them down.
Impact again missed what Ignacio Piatti gives them, and looked devoid of ideas up front. Over-worked and ineffective, it was not one of Taider’s better afternoons, Okwonkwo showed some strong running, but an inconsistent spell midway through the second period saw him replaced. Urruti still looks like a grafter who will pop up with an assist or two, but not too many goals of his own. Novillo claimed the winner, but the rest of his game was patchy.
Montreal’s dependence on Piatti to provide offensive guile and goals remains concerning, although those stating the new men up front must be allowed time to gel, have a case, but you get the feeling that, for this hard-working side to really change, the brandishing of a cheque-book or two needs to happen.
But there were things to admire for the Impact as well. In three games after the Sporting KC debacle, they’ve yet to concede a goal. That’s impressive, even if they rode their luck somewhat, yesterday. They are a hard-working, well-organized bunch, credit the coach for that, although he must long for the day when he has the material to achieve results, playing more offensive and attractive football.
There is a certain something in the side that enables, more often than not, to get the job done. The performance in defence yesterday was key. Raitala, excellent throughout, forms a good partnership with Diallo. They are well supported by effective full-backs, never more so than when Lovitz’s timely, headed goal-line clearance preserved the lead on 70 mins. That was after a blind back-pass by Okwonkwo had let in Zardes. Diallo extinguished the danger at the expense of the corner from which Crew went so close.
Zardes was also the player who missed the easiest chance of the game, six mins before the break. Piette’s unhelpful pass backwards had Diallo in some trouble and when the ball came to the US international, a tap-in from a few yards out looked a formality, but his execution was poor and the ball slid wide.
The biggest plus from yesterday of course was gaining three points against a Conference rival, and one that looked in top shape against an Impact side lacking Piatti.
All things considered it’s been a good start to the season for Montreal. Results are coming and there are certainly reasons for optimism, but you sense the football purists amongst its fanbase must wait a little longer before realizing their more particular levels of satisfaction.
IMFC –Bush – Sagna, Raitala, Diallo, Lovitz – Piette, Azira, Taider – Okwonkwo, Urruti, Novillo.
CREW –Steffen – Jimenez, Mensah, Williams, Francis – Artur, Trapp, Higuain – Pedro Santos, Zardes, Robinho.
Referee: Armando Villareal
Asst Ref: Jason White, Gianni Facchini
4thOfficial: Fotis Bazakos
VAR: Christina Unkel