When Lassi Lappalainen cut in from the left in the 52nd minute and set up the goal on a platter for Nacho Piatti, it looked all up for the CanPL visitors.
Just a few moments before, they had fallen two goals behind, hadn’t offered much from an attacking perspective and well, Nacho just doesn’t miss those.
But unbelievably the Argentinian, already two goals in the bag, failed to complete what would have been only his second Impact hat-trick, sending the ball wide of a gaping goal with only Carducci to beat.
If the reaction of the crowd was one of incredulity, it was matched only by the angst and anguish etched on the face of the Impact #10.
It was a turning point in the game. It may yet be a turning point in the tie, or so Cavalry boss, Tommy Wheeldon Jnr hopes.
The match’s opening twenty minutes were unremarkable. Any CanPL nerves were allowed the chance to evaporate as they played themselves relatively comfortably into the game. But then disaster struck for the visitors on 32 minutes.
Coach Wheeldon had joked before the game about keeping the ball away from Nacho Piatti, but when German midfielder Julien Buscher was caught in possession by Urruti, that’s exactly where Maxi’s touch went, to Piatti.
Impact’s record goalscorer needed no second invitation. With space between both Wheeldon and Trafford, he advanced on goal and rounded Carducci before finishing high into the net.
A second goal arrived four minutes into the second half, Bayiha and Sagna combining nicely on the right before the former Arsenal man crossed low for Piatti to apply the simplest of finishes at the far post.
It was all going according to plan for the Impact.
Even after the Piatti miss Lappalainen from the corner of the box let fly, bringing a decent diving save from Carducci, easily the busiest of the two custodians.
But the complexion of the tie changed in the 69th minute. Malonga the substitute, a Congolese international with experience of Scotland Italy and Spain, was found on the left. Aware of the run into the box by team-mate Camargo, the wide man threaded a delicious ball through. The Impact’s defensive shape had been compromised by the earlier turnover in midfield, and Raitala moving across to cover was wrong-footed by the clever Camargo, whose goal was the hawlmark of a finisher.
Garde reacted immediately, introducing Okwonkwo for Bayiha, although interestingly with the Impact looking urgently to restore their two-goal lead, at no time was Jackson-Hamel considered. Or if he was, it was decided against.
The pendulum swung back towards Montreal two minutes after the goal, Ledgerwood’s rash challenge forcing Piette to exercise his high-hurdling skills. It was a second yellow card for Cavalry’s Canadian international veteran and captain, and he had to go.
A yellow card for Okwonkowo in the 74th minute has to be worth mention for the sheer nonsense of referee Petrescu’s decision. The moment had no real bearing on the game, but the referee’s folly was remarkable. Impact’s Nigerian striker had won a clean ball without hint of foul. One of Canada’s premier and most experienced referees decided upon not only a questionable free-kick, but an inexplicable yellow-card. Impact players led by Piette were incensed, and well they might.
The depleted Cavalry survived bravely, even finding the time to threaten once more in the 86th minute. Malonga, by now the main threat, pulled his finish across James Pantemis’ goal and too far ahead of Pasquotti, who just couldn’t get there.
At the other end, central defender Trafford made an effective block on Taider, a Piatti volley forced strong hands from Carducci to push the ball over and Raitala got on the end of a Taider cross but couldn’t direct on target, all in the six minutes of added time which must have felt like an eternity for Cavalry, who live to fight another day.
Remi Garde cut a frustrated figure after the game. He knew his side should have emerged from this one in a better position.
Now the Impact has a job to do in a week’s time in the Calgary foothills, where Wheeldon claims Spruce Meadows to be a venue like no other.
The Calgary coach explained how the Stade Saputo pitch played very fast for his team which took some time to adjust during the game’s opening period. “Our place ...” he explained, “... plays slower, there’s altitude and a noisy crowd that’s on top of the pitch.”
Remi Garde for his part, acknowledged that act two will again attract a typical cup-tie atmosphere, but suggested his side would prevail. “I think we have enough weaponry to score against them away from home.”
IMFC: Pantemis - Sagna, Camacho, Diallo, Raitala - Piette, Bayiha (Okwonkwo 70), Krolicki, Lappalainen (Taider, 79) - Urruti, Piatti.
Cavalry: Carducci - Zator, Wheeldon, Trafford, Mavila - Pasquotti, Buscher, Ledgerwood, Escalante (Eustaquio, 73) - Camargo (Minatel, 80), Brown (Malonga, 61).
Match Officials -
Referee - Silviu Petrescu
Asst Referees - Chris Wattam, Andre Pickler
4th Official - Juan Marquez