Romell Quioto knew the best way to highlight the serious events going on in his country was to let his feet do the talking.
He had the unenviable task of setting aside thoughts of tragedy in his homeland before concentrating on helping his team-mates reach play-off football for the first time in four years.
And his on-pitch message was as loud and clear as his expressions of concern and thanks to his Montreal team-mates during a post-match press conference during which he sported the blue and white flag of his nation.
The Impact’s top scorer this season, but without a goal in the last four, was the star man, creating his side’s first goal, a back post tap-in for Bojan, assisting Wanyama for the second and grabbing what proved a late winner from Mason Toye’s pinpoint cross.
It was a nail-biting and tense 90 minutes as predicted, actually 106 minutes were played all told, and another game in which defensive frailty threatened to undermine Montreal ambition.
Thierry Henry opted to start with Camacho and Fanni in the heart of defence with Binks benched, surprising most observers. Eyebrows were also raised with the inclusion of Jackson-Hamel, his second start of the season, in a three-man frontline, but nevertheless signalled the coach’s intent to go out and attack.
But it was DC United who started much the brighter and took the lead all too easily. Gressel whipped in a 9th minute corner. Given Montreal’s frailty he must’ve known if the delivery was right here was a great chance to score. With Diop rooted to his line, and neither centre-back picking up Pines, the tallest player in the opposition ranks had the simplest of tasks heading home. Corrales attempt to challenge was understandably ineffectual.
Henry must have been livid.
But DC United only held the ascendency for 4 minutes, the lead cancelled out by the Bojan goal, a development which unhinged the home side and saw Montreal take control. It was Quioto who had lost Pines for the DC goal a few moments earlier, this time he was able to turn the big defender and set Bojan up.
But as both sides put the emphasis on offence, the Impact were rocked back on their heels a second time. Again it was a corner, this time from Flores on the right. It was met by Ola Kamara who escaped the attentions of Brault-Guillard and brushed off the challenge of Camacho. Diop again was rooted to his goal-line. Impact players stood staring at each other. 2-1, DC United.
Three minutes into stoppage time, Jackson-Hamel had highly legitimate claims for a penalty after being tripped by Gressel, but surprisingly no award was forthcoming. There was no VAR interruption either. Then as the Impact player lay prone on the turf Corrales curved a ball in from the left, Quioto managed to get in front of the much taller Pines, but his header found safety after kissing the top of the bar.
Thierry Henry wasn’t prepared to discuss the penalty incident post-match, but did say, “They came in at half-time and I said, ‘Please no-one talks about the ref, concentrate on what we need to achieve and play football.’
“The job we had to do was regroup and after make sure we concentrate on what we had to achieve. Not talk about if it was a penalty or not. Not my job.”
The coach’s half-time words were effective, his side approaching the second-half on the front foot and trading punches with DC for whom the 2-1 HT scoreline would’ve ultimately been enough to secure their own play-off spot.
The Impact for their part had lost every one of the last 19 MLS games in which they trailed at the break, a statistic that had long since become boringly depressing. They also knew that breaking the spell with a tie might not be enough. Two goals were required without further concession.
DC could feel the pressure, they were defending ever more deeply as the Impact thrust forward. A corner was won on the right, Quioto the taker, found the head of Wanyama as the advancing Kenyan burst into the box, the ball entering the net like a Exocet missile.
The former Spurs man was pumped. His display all afternoon was determined and dominant, his reaction on finding the goal, that of a man who would not be denied.
Montreal now had one leg in the driving seat, clinging on to tenth spot so long as other scores didn’t change. Both sides still needed the victory to be sure, as the game entered its final ten minutes of regulation time.
Having dictated the pace before and beyond Wanyama’s decisive play, the Impact looked the more likely, and when Yordi Reyna’s loose pass was easily intercepted by Mustafa Kizza, the young Ugandan strode forward, took a touch and supplied a quick and delightfully simple ball to Toye.
The quality and crispness of the pass saw the former Minnesota man yards in advance of Canouse. All he needed now was to pick out Quioto advancing between the centre-backs. The cross was perfect, Quioto’s timing too and the Honduran applied the finishing touch past a despairing Bill Hamid.
It was an assured start for Kizza, a player whose arrival had been eagerly anticipated by fans, and he’d been on the pitch for only 16 minutes.
The closing stages, again added time trundled towards the 99th minute, were not without anxiety and saw Diop come up strong in a couple of situations, one double save being particularly notable.
By that time the Impact had been reduced to ten men, after Piette was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Paul Arriola.
But it would be Montreal’s night, a palpable sense of relief to all concerned, and a personal triumph for Romell Quioto, who repaid his team-mates for their concern and generosity over recent days with a superb match-winning display.
DCU: Hamid - Canouse, Brilliant, Pines - Gressel, Nyeman (Arriola, 69), Moreno - Asad, Rivas (Kamara, 5), Sorga (Reyna, 77)
Bench (not used): Seitz, Edwards Jr, Fisher, Sjoberg, Mora, Yow
IMFC: Diop - Fanni, Camacho, Corrales (Binks, 82) - Brault-Guillard, Piette, Wanyama, Sejdic (Kizza, 71) - Quioto (Maciel, 90+3), Jackson-Hamel (Toye, 71), Bojan (Shome, 90+3)
Bench (not used): Pantemis, Waterman, Saba, Bayiha
Match Officials -
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez
Asst Refs: Logan Brown, Brian Poeschel
4th Official: Thomas Snyder
VAR: Armando Villareal
Asst VAR: Adam Wienckowski