MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact stand tall this week after picking up their first win of their MLS era, beating Toronto FC 2-1.
But there was a point midway through the second half when the wheels were coming off for the men in blue. They were leading 1-0, they were playing with a man advantage, but they were also giving the ball away with every other touch, allowing the Reds to sneak back into the game and control the tempo.
That’s when Montreal head coach Jesse Marsch turned to erstwhile starter Justin Mapp, bringing the midfielder in off the bench for the final half-hour.
The 11-year MLS veteran ended up rallying his teammates with his calm and confidence, joining forces with Andrew Wenger – another substitute – to create what turned out to be the winning goal.
“I just tried to come in and play my game, show a little leadership, I guess,” Mapp told MLSSoccer.com after practice on Tuesday. “We still could have done better in keeping the ball at times, especially being up a man. We were able to push and get the second goal and, for the most part, shut them down, obviously besides the last goal.”
Marsch made some bold changes from the start, notably leaving players who had been de facto starters since the beginning of the season on the bench. Far from being worried about a possible lack of veteran influence on the field, Marsch felt relief when glancing at his substitutes.
“It’s a good situation to be able to look down the bench and see guys like Justin Mapp, Davy Arnaud and Patrice Bernier,” Marsch told reporters. “That’s a quality group of players that you know you can put on the field.”
While assured performances like the one against TFC are an argument for continuing to bring those veterans off the bench, Mapp hasn’t fallen down the depth chart. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“I think Justin probably fits in the category of our main guys,” Marsch stated. “At different moments, [we have] to make sure that we handle him physically the right way and give him the chance to be successful and that a long season is possible. He knows, and he’ll be ready for that off-the-bench role.”