MONTREAL – “The win was huge for us today. It’s all that really needs to be said.”
Blake Smith’s unfazed delivery startled the flock of reporters, but maybe they shouldn’t have been so surprised. In the 96th minute of the evening's match, the Montreal Impact rookie had given them a sample of how composed he could be.
Plenty can go through a man’s mind in two seconds, and that’s the time Smith had to mull over his options from the moment the ball left Marco Di Vaio’s right foot. Yet in the end, he applied the coolest of left-footed finishes between Jimmy Nielsen’s legs to secure a dramatic 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City.
“[I was thinking of] trying to get a good, clean shot,” Smith told reporters after the game. “Place it where I want to place it. Get it on frame, really.”
Having sent Smith on the field with 10 minutes to go in a typically hard-fought battle against Kansas City, Montreal boss Marco Schällibaum admitted that a substitute making the difference so late rests on “the coach’s luck” somewhat, but he insisted that his team’s effort was “heroic again.”
“The players gave us a lot physically. The final pass maybe wasn’t working well, but they worked 100 miles an hour,” Schällibaum said in his postgame press conference. “Blake has learned a lot since the first day I met him. He’s quietly getting into a very good place. He wants to go forward, and tonight's a gift not only for us, but also for him.”
Praise for the youngster’s achievement came from all around the Impact locker room. Patrice Bernier, for one, thought Smith’s timely winner rewarded the Impact for their better second half.
“It’s a great win, but especially like that, at the end, with all the effort we put in,” Bernier said. “We were solid in the first half, when we suffered a lot, possession-wise. But to come back and finish the game like that, we can’t ask for more.”
According to the Québécois midfielder, whose dummy set up Di Vaio's assist, Montreal played more direct as they sensed that Sporting Kansas City’s pressing had sapped their energy down the stretch.
Still, Bernier pointed out that the Impact’s original game plan had been to hit Peter Vermes’ side on the counter and play quickly forward against their tough defenders.
“We had to play on the counter, so it’s funny that we scored through build-up play, not on a quick counter,” Bernier quipped.