Montreal Impact has a new hero. It’s a 20 year-old Finn that most fans would have had no concept of two short weeks ago.
Tonight Lassi Lappalainen lit up Stade Saputo, along with 21 year-old Orji Okwonkwo. Together, they had the place rocking, helped of course by an able supporting cast, which included the maestro, Ignacio Piatti, dropping in for a productive hour as he progresses back towards full match fitness.
It’s hugely harsh on Okwonkwo that the young Finn will steal most of the headlines, for the Nigerian hit the high notes too with two stunning finishes, but what a wonderful debut it was for Impact’s latest capture.
Three minutes and seven seconds it took for his first touch in MLS. Two seconds and as many exquisite caresses of the ball later, he’d scored his first goal. Zachary Brault-Guillard produced a major contribution, cutting inside and playing a perfect pass for Lappalainen to run onto, leaving opponent Raymon Gaddis completely flat of foot..
Composed, classy, ice-cool, the winger explained to the press afterwards, he doesn’t get nervous before games. You have to believe him on this evidence, and on what we were to witness later.
The little stadium in the shadow of the Big O hasn’t had a night quite like this one for a while. Impact fans haven’t headed off into the Montreal night at any other time this season feeling better than they did this evening!
The fireworks down the Old Port surely must’ve been Finland tonight? Or perhaps, Nigeria? At the very least let’s pretend they heralded a seasonal turning point in the local team’s fortunes. The timing could never be more appropriate.
But there were anxious moments too. Either side of Okwonko’s 37th minute blast from the edge of the box to double the margin, Philly showed why they’ve been riding high for most of this season. They went close numerous times. Evan Bush came up big twice, saving from Fabian’s back-post header and diving left to thwart Przybylko who had been put in by Medjunian.
The Impact ‘keeper earned his seventh clean-sheet of the season right there and then, but even he could do nothing about Przybylko’s goal-bound shot which found the inside of a post only to rebound to safety. Bush will claim you make your own luck and who could argue, for this was undoubtedly Montreal’s night.
Despite being a couple of goals in front, Impact’s young and offensive midfield four were struggling against the more experienced Union engine room as the half drew to a close, but further breathing space would be provided within a minute of the restart. And again it was Lappalainen.
If Philadelphia had shown before the break why they’ve been riding high, then later the cracks that have seen them concede 4 goals in three of their last four MLS road games, began to appear.
Marco Fabian was robbed by Lappalainen, Piatti reached the loose ball before Elliott, and the Flying Finn accelerated away, cutting in from the left with the Union defence back-pedalling. Blake’s positioning could not be faulted, but Lappalainen simply opened his body, wrapped his right foot around the ball, and rolled it between ‘keeper and far post into the net.
It was as though ice was pumping through his veins, it was all so matter of factly. He made it look so easy. The young man wasn’t in the least phased and you start to think you’re at the birth of something special.
Adoring fans from the Ultras end of the stadium leaned over to get a touch. Lappalainen clapped the outstretched hands. The night was becoming special.
Three in front, Montreal managed what remained of the game sensibly, allowing territory and possession to the visitors. But there was still enough in the tank for a fourth goal, and what a fantastic strike this one was too, on 66 mins.
Just fifteen seconds after a Philadelphia corner, Okwonko rolled the ball past Blake at the other end of the pitch, the pace and ferocity of the move leaving Gaddis and Trusty in the Nigerian’s wake. Diallo produced a strong headed clearance, the ball was helped on overhead by Urruti, and off went Orji with still half a pitch to run. If the only question that remained was, could he keep his composure, the Montreal faithful need not have worried, Blake was given no chance, the finish perfectly executed. The somersault wasn’t bad either!
It’s a funny old game, football, as they say. A week ago, Remi Garde was challenged with lifting a side that had just lost it’s fourth MLS game on the bounce. Now all of a sudden it’s about pulling the reins in and keeping his players’ feet on the ground.
Tonight’s was Montreal Impact’s biggest MLS win for exactly three years and 5 days, since coincidentally, Philadelphia Union were defeated 5-1, here, and only the third time in MLS history they have won a game by a margin of 4 goals or more.
The performance was very good, not perfect, goals came at the right times, but the result may just provide all the impetus needed for a successful assault on the regular-season play-off race.
IMFC - Bush - Brault-Guillard, Diallo, Raitala, Lovitz - Okwonkwo (Bayiha, 69), Taider, Shome, Lappalainen (Choiniere, 82) - Piatti (Camacho, 62), Urruti
Union - Blake - Gaddis, Elliott, Trusty, Real (Wooten, 56) - Medunjanin - Bedoya, Fabian, Aronson (Ilsinho, 49) - Przylbylko, Picault (Fontana, 74).
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Assistant Referees: Corey Rockwell, Cory Richardson
4th Official: Luis Guardia
VAR: Jose Carlos Rivero
Attendance - 16,344