MONTREAL – Much like two boxers studying each other in a championship bout, Sunday's encounter between Montreal and Columbus was a measured affair, with both teams feeling each other out for long periods of the first half.
Halftime in turn gave Impact head coach Jesse Marsch an opportunity to put into practice what he had observed during the first 45 minutes: His outside backs needed to be more aggressive with their timing going forward to turn crosses into actual attempts on goal.
And in the 78th minute, Zarek Valentin’s first MLS goal proved to be the jab that opened up the opponent for Patrice Bernier’s knockout punch from the penalty spot late on.
GOAL: Valentin levels it up
“[Valentin] was far advanced, the timing of the play was good and it set him up,” Marsch told reporters after his side’s 2-1 win at Stade Saputo. “Instead of it being a cross from a wide spot, it was a shot from inside the box and he got us a goal.”
Marsch also praised his wide midfielders, Lamar Neagle and Sanna Nyassi, whose off-the-ball movement kept Columbus’ defense guessing throughout their time on the field. Valentin agreed and, despite claiming that he “blacked out” after Nyassi released him through on goal, he admitted that the pacey winger deserved credit.
“Sanna got the ball, played a good through ball and, I told you, I don’t know what happened,” Valentin giggled. “I woke up and I was back there somewhere.”
Impact DP Marco Di Vaio also got an assist on the play, working a tight space in midfield to feed Nyassi. Di Vaio landed none of his seven shots on the target, but Marsch was satisfied with the Italian’s effort, especially the way he fine-tuned his attacking work after the break.
“We felt like we were maybe forcing the final play a little too much,” Marsch recalled. “I asked Marco to be more patient with his runs. As a team, we’re still getting used to playing with him, the timing of plays. Second half, he adjusted really well.”
Most of all, the Montreal boss was relieved to see his team rally after conceding the opening goal, a first in the franchise’s history. Marsch has long insisted that his team needed to keep going when faced with an uphill struggle.
And this time, the Impact resisted the initial flurry of punches and floored the Crew for the 10-count.
“This can be a bit of a turning point for us, or a mark in the season, a time when our backs were against the wall and we responded,” Marsch said. “We absolutely responded.”