Victory over Philadelphia Union puts playoffs within reach for Montreal Impact: "It sets us free, it's incredible"

MONTREAL – There were no groans, no gasps. Just an awkward silence.

That's how Fabinho’s goal for Philadelphia was met by the Stade Saputo faithful after 29 minutes on Saturday. The Montreal Impact kept plugging away, but the play was lifeless, and Union ‘keeper Zac MacMath watched, unthreatened.

It wasn't exactly the performance that Impact head coach Marco Schällibaum had in mind in his team's final home match against a direct rival in the playoff race.

“But I also said [at halftime] that I felt we could turn this game around,” Schällibaum told reporters. “And they did.”

Second-half goals from Marco Di Vaio and Karl Ouimette got Montreal’s heart beating again. And the 2-1 win, Montreal’s second this season after trailing at halftime, was beneficial on several levels.

Montreal had been stuck in a rut for 337 minutes, unable to find the required inspiration for scoring, until Di Vaio created the loudest ovation of the year at Stade Saputo in the 64th minute. Then Ouimette’s 84th-minute winner stopped the Impact’s winless streak at six games.

And all that means that Montreal are getting so close to their very first playoff run that they can almost feel it.

“I’m really proud of my team, of everyone who's been through these tough moments, weeks, months,” Schällibaum said. “It sets us free, it’s incredible. The emotions are impressive. I’m drained right now. It was a really tough week. I’m really happy for everyone. We deserved this win, with rage and will power. It’s a great moment.”

The atmosphere at full time certainly reflected it. Their home schedule over, Montreal thanked their fans with a lap of honor and Di Vaio took a bow as the player of the game. Schällibaum himself heaped praise on his Designated Player, for a hard week’s work.

“With players like him, I get up every morning and say 'Thanks,'” Schällibaum said.

The 37-year-old Di Vaio logged 180 minutes this week, including Wednesday's loss in Los Angeles. But once again, he was the Impact's catalyst, becoming the 11th player in MLS history to score 20 goals in a season as he regained the lead in the Golden Boot race.

“It’s great for me and for the team,” Di Vaio said. “If I score, but we don’t get to a certain level, it’s not enough and I'm not happy. But with the goals and – maybe – the playoffs, I’m very happy. Both things are important to me. I want to help the team get to that level. Hopefully, next week in Toronto, we achieve that. We’ll see.”

Olivier Tremblay covers the Montreal Impact for MLSsoccer.com.