It’s a funny old game, football...
Leaving Stade Saputo last Friday evening you wouldn’t have given an earthly for Montreal Impact’s chances to follow up a totally abstract performance with their their third MLS win at BMO field, four days later.
Coach Thierry Henry didn’t sound like he was playing mind games at that evening's post-match press conference. Complimenting Toronto for how they played, singling out the abilities of some of their key players and declaring the Reds the team to beat in the East, but maybe, just maybe, Toronto FC absorbed the compliments and relaxed their edge.
Of the two sides last night, it was they who looked below par, their frame of mind wasn’t quite what it needed to be. How else do you explain the bizarre penalty incident as the first half drew to a close?
Only the most diehard of Impact fans would have found solace or belief in Thierry Henry’s words when he said after Flat Friday, ‘... but we have a chance to rectify things at BMO Field on Tuesday,’ and ‘We have to find a way.’
But last night with Taider and Piette restored, there was a difference. Piette has added elements to his game under Henry you would not have expected to see, and Taider despite not always looking his best, has three goals and three assists in his seven regular season appearances in 2020. Montreal are clearly better with him in the side than not.
Toronto may have started the game the better, but it wasn’t long before the Impact found their front foot. All of a sudden it seemed they had something to offer in attack. Beforehand, the coach had challenged his team to be more positive and brave. The response was coming.
Montreal’s belief grew in the 14th minute when Rudy Camacho, only one MLS goal previously, rose forcefully at the back post to head Quioto’s deep cross into the far corner. There was attention from Morrow, but the Frenchman’s determination to meet the ball brushed the Toronto man aside.
The Impact had a catalogue of chances in that first half. Taider should have done better with a header from Braut-Guillard’s cross, Quioto dwelled a little too long on the ball when one on one allowing Mavinga to thwart and on 44 minutes Lappalainen led Bradley on a merry dance before remembering he had no left foot.
In a first 45 of complete contrast to the previous meeting, TFC had their chances too. Diop did well to repel Altidore as the American broke through and looked certain to score. And there was an even better reflex stop by the Impact ‘keeper to turn away a goal bound effort after the same player met Auro’s perfect cross.
Altidore’s brawn was proving a handful, but he was to display a more delicate side, going down much too easily under Camacho’s challenge in the last minute of an eventful half. Penalty thought Mr Fisher, but not many others, and so Clement Diop was to face his third pk in as many games.
What happened next was bizarre and described post-match by Diop as ‘disrespectful’. Whether Pozuelo, whose penalty stats are good, thought two spot-kicks against the same ‘keeper in successive games was not such a great idea, or merely decided to play the showman, one thing was clear: both he and team-mate Piatti were left with egg on their faces.
Their poorly executed trickery ended up in a free-kick to Montreal after Piatti had encroached into the area as Pozuelo rolled the ball forward. The moment the TFC #7 made ball contact (he slotted past Diop and into the net) the play was dead. Credit the officials whose sharpness detected Piatti’s premature run. It’s probably not something they, nor anyone else for that matter, generally looks for during a penalty.
You wonder about the mood in the respective dressing rooms after that. Greg Vanney must have been less than pleased, and once Montreal’s relief abated, did their resolve and determination increase? The clue is probably captured in Diop’s ‘disrespectful’ comment.
Despite defending more deeply as the second-half wore on, the Impact managed to repel the best Toronto could muster. They may have widened the margin when Quioto, who ran himself into the ground, broke through in the 77th minute only to slice wide, and Okwonkwo’s cross with a minute to go sped across the goal just beyond Bojan’s reach.
Akinola should have done better with a late headed chance from Gallardo’s cross, but it sailed over the bar along with Toronto’s best attempts to equal the MLS record for successive regular-season games unbeaten.
Thierry Henry and Montreal Impact had indeed, found a way...
TFC - Westberg - Auro, Gonzalez, Mavinga (Gallardo, 81), Morrow - Piatti (DeLeon, 73), Delgado (Akinola, 81), Bradley, Osorio - Pozuelo - Altidore (Endoh, 81)
IMFC - Diop - Camacho, Binks, Raitala - Brault-Guillard, Wanyama, Maciel, Lappalainen (Bojan, 75) - Piette, Taider - Quioto (Okwonkwo, 79)
Match Officials -
Referee - Drew Fischer
Asst Ref - Gianni Facchini, Chantal Boudreau
4th Official - Fabrizio Stasolla
VAR - Geoff Gamble
Asst VAR - Philippe Briere