HARRISON, N.J. – Just one year ago, Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush first stuffed New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan from the spot, making the save in an eventual 2-1 loss at Red Bull Arena on Oct. 7, 2015.
Facing Kljestan in the 21st minute of Sunday's Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinal Leg 2, Bush knew that Kljestan rarely goes to a goalkeeper’s right on spot kicks, yet identified a tell that let him know that Kljestan was going in that direction.
Bush dove right, punching the ball wide with his trailing left hand. Montreal went on to win, 2-1, at Red Bull Arena, sealing a 3-1 aggregate victory and sending them to an impending 401 derby matchup with Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Championship.
“It was something that I read,” said Bush, who made a total of three saves in the game. “I’d like to thank [backup goalkeeper] Eric Kronberg for that. We talked about it a lot. That’s what this team is: Guys that aren’t even on the field that contribute in different ways that you don’t see but reflect in the game today.”
The Impact could have fallen behind, 1-0, and been put level on aggregate, when Gonzalo Veron caught Victor Cabrera dawdling on the ball near the box. Veron was clipped by the 30-year-old netminder, putting Kljestan at the spot.
“It was a key moment in the game. Evan came up big there,” said Impact head coach Mauro Biello. “The momentum started to shift our way and the longer this game went without them scoring, the more it was going to tilt to our advantage. That’s what ended up happening.”
The save kept the game scoreless and left the door open for the counterattacking Impact to find the opener through Ignacio Piatti six minutes after halftime, further putting the Red Bulls in a hole on aggregate.
New York pulled one back in the 77th minute when Bradley Wright-Phillips beat Bush with a deflected low shot, but it was not enough against an organized and disciplined Montreal team that was content to absorb pressure and counter.
Bush’s shutout was ruined, but he could take solace in knowing that he had already done his part to help ensure the Impact advanced.
“It’s about making some plays, and today we were able to make those plays,” Biello said. “Evan Bush comes up big and makes the play.”