MONTREAL – A first win in MLS. A victorious derby. More than 20,000 ecstatic fans. The Montreal Impact locker room was a much happier place to be on Saturday afternoon.
Montreal's "401 Derby" triumph, 2-1 over Canadian rivals Toronto FC, was a relief for the club after a 0-4-1 start to their expansion season. Manager Jesse Marsch, however, says the win is just a first step.
“It’s a big moment and a big win for the club, the fans, the city and the players, but the reality is that the work is just getting started,” Marsch said. “We’re all pleased, happy and excited to get to this moment, but I think our players are so well-grounded that they understand that it’s about this whole process and pushing this thing along.”
Part of that process involves squad rotation, according to the head coach. He made five changes to the starting lineup that dropped a 1-0 result to Real Salt Lake in midweek.
One of the holdovers was Collen Warner, whose performance in Salt Lake forced a change of plans for Marsch on Saturday: The manager indicated that he had planned on starting Québécois veteran midfielder Patrice Bernier against Toronto, but he had a change of heart.
Marsch's subs also paid off on Saturday. One of them, No. 1 SuperDraft pick Andrew Wenger, scored his first MLS goal which proved to be the game-winner. The former college star left Olympic Stadium with a match ball signed by his teammates in commemoration of the feat.
“It just feels great to win, the locker room is much different,” Wenger remarked. “We’ve been working the last couple of weeks with some tough results and some bad performances for a couple of minutes here and there, but we finally put together a full game.”
It wasn't just that the Impact played a complete game. Impact right back Zarek Valentin says it was critical that every player carried their weight against Toronto.
"I think we made plays today," Valentin said. "Guys all around the field, from Donovan [Ricketts] to Shavar [Thomas], the guys on the attacking end, they made plays. Those are things that win games."
But despite the ecstatic mood following Saturday's historic win, the Impact are guarding against overconfidence with a road trip at FC Dallas coming up next weekend.
“Whenever we were losing a few games, we didn’t get too down in the dumps, and now that we’re winning, we’re not going to think, ‘Oh! We made it!’" Valentin said. "We just have to get back to work knowing that Dallas is going to be a tough game.”