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For Whom the Bell Tolls - Impact’s Finest-Ever Debutante?

Lappelainen Lights Up Le Stade ...

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Montreal Impact
Lappalainen starts of the move leading to the second goal. Okwonkwo the scorer, after great link-up involving the Finn, Urruti and Piatti.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Much of a stuttering season’s tribulations were forgotten last night as Montreal Impact’s newest star illuminated Stade Saputo, and the North Star Bell rang out renewed hope for post-season soccer.

The return of Piatti cannot be understated either. It’s allowed others, most notably Saphir Taider, to play their more accustomed roles and all of a sudden the Impact looked a more balanced, cohesive unit, that looks like scoring goals. What a difference a couple of talented players can make.

But what of the debut of Lassi Lappalainen? Has there ever been a better one in a Montreal Impact shirt?

The answer to that simply has to be a resounding no!

Yes, Didier Drogba did become the first player in MLS history to score a hat-trick on his first start against Chicago Fire in September 2015, but he’d actually made his Montreal Impact bow a few weeks earlier, replacing Dilly Duka with a third of the game left, in a 0-1 home defeat, ironically to Philadelphia Union.

And while Montreal fans were a little unsure of what to expect from Lappalainen, they knew exactly what could happen with Didier Drogba. Besides there’s something even more exciting about a youthful, new face emerging from nowhere and exploding onto the scene, precisely what happened last night.

There was something different about the whole evening, a contradictory air of expectancy in a crowd that had stopped daring to dream. The eleven on the field were bolder and their performance elevated the mood. Often the crowd lifts the team, but sometimes those on the field must help the crowd. That’s what happened last night, emphatically so, and the place simply ignited.

Any football ground is a place to be on such an occasion, Stade Saputo no different.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Montreal Impact
Twenty-one. It could be his age, but actually he’s younger. Lappalainen is running in celebration to the corner before his MLS debut is 4 minutes old.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Nervous? Who me?
More uncertain facing the press than MLS defenders, the young Finn described afterwards how generally he doesn’t get nervous before games. It’s not a fair comparison, but I couldn’t help thinking the wonderful, George Best always said that. And if there really is ice in those veins, allied to his pace, this kid looks the real deal. Montreal fans must enjoy him while he’s here, and for his part, he just needs to keep his feet on the ground.

But he is smart, evidently possesses a good soccer brain, and he’s witty.

Asked last night if he was pushing Piatti out of the way in the build-up to the second goal, he had presence of mind enough to reflect back jokingly to an earlier comment, “I was the Ferrari, he was the Fiat.” It was all tongue-in-cheek of course, and delivered with the appropriate level of respect. It also brought much laughter from the gathered media.

The youngster was a little surprised to have been given the start, but he had dreamed the night before about scoring on his debut, but not twice!

“Actually I saw a dream, scoring one goal, so not like in my dreams, but ... it is a dream now.
“[I was] a bit surprised [to start the game], I think I’ve been training good, so maybe that’s why, and in the game I did well, so ....”

He was thrilled at Stade Saputo’s ovation as he was replaced late in the game. “Oh yeah, it was so great. It was good to be substituted because I was so tired, but when the crowd stood up, it was so great.”

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Montreal Impact
Impact’s greatest-ever debut? Lappalainen in first-half action.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The element of surprise now gone, all of MLS will have the youngster as a marked man. Will he be able to lift his game when things get tighter and space is less?

“Yeah, hopefully [I can]. In Finland it was the same thing. I scored a few goals in the beginning of the season and they noticed that, but still I continued scoring some goals, so hopefully here it’s the same thing.”

And how did he view the contrast between playing MLS compared to Veikkausliiga, Finland’s top league?

“The pace was a lot faster. I mean in Finland it’s like standing sometimes. And the weather? It’s so hot here. It makes it more difficult, but I hope in the next games it will become much easier. It was a bit harsh.”

Remi Garde was asked if he was taking a risk introducing Lappalainen so soon after arriving in the city?

“[I wasn’t concerned] because you could see in a few training sessions. But also I watched him playing in many clips, many games, before we all decided to go with him, to buy him. And in training sessions you can see a lot of stuff, you know. It’s like a game. You can see the guy’s focus, if he’s ok to make an effort for the team or not, if he fits with the other guys or fits very quickly into the team or not. And I saw all of that straight away with him.

“Even if he hadn’t scored tonight, I would still say that he had a good game. It’s not only the goals but the way he tried to combine with the others, the way he closed down the left channel in front of Daniel many times. He worked very hard for the team.

“I guessed before the game he was able to do that because he was not coming from vacation or holidays, but he was coming straight away from Champions League qualification in Europe.

MLS: Toronto FC at Montreal Impact
Remi Garde: “Even if [Lassi] hadn’t scored tonight, I would still say that he had a good game.”
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Asked if he was concerned about keeping things calm, particularly with the young goalscorers, after such a tumultuous performance, Garde made the journalists laugh, “No. I am not scared about that. I am more scared that Bologna will call back their players.

“I feel that, you know, it’s great that these players have scored and it’s very important, but you can trust me I will make them keep their two feet on the ground.”

There was only one man who could possibly have rung the North Star Bell after this one, but everyone had to wait for the Man of the Match presentation to conclude ... when it eventually did happen, it was sweet, sweet music to Montreal ears ...