Four humbling defeats, without a win in five, Montreal Impact entered the Crew’s impregnable cabin last evening and left with all three points.
Until then, Columbus had a perfect home record this season, and had only conceded once at MAPFRE. That’s all gone out the window now as the Impact boosted its chances of a berth in the play-offs.
It wasn’t pretty, any victory was always going to be hard-earned, and as committed and resilient as they were, the brilliance of Bojan was the key to Montreal’s success on the night.
The little Catalan has prospered as his fitness improves, perhaps also benefitting from not having to share pitch space with the injured Taider. Henry has urged him to get into the opposition box more and get involved in goals and assists. The response couldn’t be clearer. Bojan has been directly involved in each of the four goals in the last three matches.
Caleb Porter was left as shaken as the cross-bar which met with Bojan’s thunderous drive leading to the opening goal.
“I firmly believe that these things happen when you’re not in the right mindset. This is your class MLS result where the team at the top plays the team at the bottom, a little trap game that you see all the time, and we’re better than that. The best teams don’t lose this game,” said Porter.
Well on the night his side ‘weren’t better than that’. In fact they were lacklustre in the first third of the game, and should have been two behind, not only one, had Sejdic punished Crew’s sloppiness in defence as early as minute 3. On that occasion the inside of an upright came to Tarbell’s rescue.
The woodwork threatened to reprieve Crew again when the opening goal did arrive on 24 mins. Lappalainen slipped Bojan through, the former Barca man unleashing a full-blooded rocket which bludgeoned the underside of the bar. Lappalainen was first to react, firstly having his header stopped by Afful’s hand, then tapping the second rebound into the unguarded net.
Obvious goal. Right? Wrong. Well, right for all, but the officials, who confused players, those present and the tv audience by their uncertain reactions. The ball was re-centred and the game re-started before TSN updated their TV scoreline such was the confusion. Viewers were left non-plussed. It was a strange moment.
This and the penalty awarded to Montreal after VAR intervention in the second-half only served to underline how MLS must relay this aspect of the game more clearly. On the penalty there were no re-runs for viewers' and confusion reigned over both incidents, particularly the first goal. The tv experience was poor and should have been so much more engaging and transparent.
Porter’s team began to find a foothold around the 30-minute mark and on the stroke of half-time pulled level through top-scorer Zardes, though he wouldn’t have known too much about it.
Pedro Santos, what a good player he looked, jinked across the edge of the Impact box, twisting past opponents like a poodle would obstacles at a dog-show, before supplying Valenzuela on the left. The wide man sent in a low cross, Binks missed his kick, the ball ricocheting off a startled Zardes and into the net from close-range.
As has become habitual, Montreal came out looking flat after the interval. The home side laid seige. Columbus’ pressure increased as the second-half wore on, the Impact’s defending at times, of Alamo-proportions.
It looked like a goal must come, but Montreal from time to time would discover an outlet and some respite. And they found their moment in the 71st minute. Brault-Guillard combined with Piette who fed Bojan inside the box. The diminutive #9 cleverly retained his position between ball and defender, and Jimenez’s cumbersome challenge did the rest.
The tackle looked suspect from the moment it occurred, perhaps the referee was unsighted with the play waved on, but the correct decision was determined post-VAR review.
Bojan picked himself up, took charge of the ball and clinically finished beyond Tarbell. It was a goal his performance deserved.
The expected onslaught continued from Columbus, although often hurried and precision-less against a Montreal defence now with the bit between its collective teeth. Most concern surrounded the discipline of Raitala and Binks, each walking the tight-rope on yellow cards from the 42nd and 54th mins respectively.
But everyone’s nerve held, not least 38-year-old Rod Fanni who made a wonderful 95th minute interception as the final opportunity for the Crew came and went.
Thierry Henry as entitled, in lighter mood than we’ve seen at post-match videoconferences lately was not getting carried away. Eager to point out it’s only one game the Impact coach said, “It’s always a good one when you win in the end.”
“Could it have been better? Yes, obvioulsy. But we had a solid game against Toronto and then we couldn’t capitalize on that, so let’s keep our feet on the ground.”
Crew - Tarbell - Afful, Mensah, Williams, Valenzuela (Jimenez, 69) - Artur, Morris (Adi, 78) - Diaz (Etienne, 78), Santos, Mokhtar (Boateng, 67) - Zardes
Bench (not used) - Lampson, Cadden, Keita, Boateng, Hamilton
IMFC - Diop - Brault-Guillard, Fanni, Binks, Raitala, Corrales - Wanyama, Piette, Sejdic - Lappalainen (Urruti, 61), Bojan (Shome, 85)
Bench (not used) - Pantemis, Giraldo, Bayiha, Camacho, Tabla, Yao, Toye
Referee: Victor Rivas
Asst Refs: Peter Balciunas, C.J. Morgante
4th Official: Lukasz Szpala
VAR: Fotis Bazakos