After the euphoria of Wednesday night, Sunday evening at Stade Saputo was more a feeling of, same old, same old.
Despite a full strength squad, a rarity in itself in this beleaguered, injury-plagued season, and having Bojan and Piatti up front, it was all too predictable in the Montreal build-up.
Coach Wilmer Cabrera claimed post-match that with respect, his team had come up against a more talented outfit and his players had given everything.
Not an unreasonable view at all, and anyway everything at Stade Saputo was rendered merely academic as news filtered through that New England Revolution had tamed New York City FC to the tune of 2-0, to claim the remaining play-off spot in the East.
Three years in a row now without play-off soccer, the Impact must rebuild, with new Sporting Director, Olivier Renard, and be ready for 2020 earlier than usual, having secured Champions League football with Wednesday’s defeat of Toronto FC.
Last evening Atlanta were the superior side throughout, although in fairness, Montreal was probably just about worth their point.
Wide man Julian Gressel put the visitors in front on 53 mins with an opportunist finish inside the box after playing a neat one-two with Emerson Hyndman, the latter’s skillful back flick displaying admirable and telling instinct.
The Impact pulled level with nine minutes left to play and it had much to do the the tenacity and determination of Orji Okwonkwo, who matched Gonzalez-Pirez physically before showing the Atlanta defender a clean pair of heels. The Nigerian then had the composure to pick out Bojan, who steered the ball inside the far post to claim his maiden Stade Saputo goal.
As Montreal stormed back into attack, with the crowd more enthused, you felt they might just be able to complete the turnaround, but as things turned out they had to thank VAR, a horrible earlier miss from Pity Martinez and a couple of spectacular saves from Diop to maintain parity.
In between, Victor Cabrera, still in attack following a corner, had Montreal’s last opportunity of the game. His volley however, was high, wide and (not so) handsome.
Just before, Villalba thought he had secured the winner for Atlanta, but Justin Meram had strayed offside as Barco’s lovely chip came back off the crossbar in the first phase of the play.
Villalba and Barco each brought acrobatic stops from Clement Diop as the ‘keeper, making his MLS debut for the Impact, ensured his side remained on level terms.
And so, the hard work and rebuilding for 2020 begins. New Sporting Director Olivier Renard will be introduced to the press on Tuesday morning at Centre Nutrilait, and the process will continue with the final game of the season against New York Red Bulls at Stade Saputo, next Sunday, with only pride at stake.
Ironically should they win, it will be the first time ever Montreal has completed a regular season double over the men from the Big Apple.
IMFC - Diop - Sagna, Cabrera, Fanni, Lovitz - Bayiha (Okwonkwo, 66), Piette, Taider, Lappalainen (Urruti, 60) - Piatti, Bojan
Atlanta - Guzan - Parkhurst (Pogba, 82), Robinson, Gonzalez Pirez - Gressel, Nagbe, Larentowicz, Meram - P Martinez (Villalba, 76), Vazquez (Barco, 63), Hyndman.
Match Officials -
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Assistant Referees: Cory Richardson, Gianni Facchini
4th Official: Fotis Bazakos
VAR: Geoff Gamble