No Drogba, no Piatti, no Bush, no Donadel, no Mapp. No worries: the Montreal Impact picked up a second straight road point in California with a 1-1 tie at San Jose. Impact interim head coach Mauro Biello’s gamble paid off.
Actually, scratch that.
“I didn’t gamble at all,” Biello told reporters postgame. “This was calculated. I believe in this team, and I believe in the players that I have. It was a decision that we took, to go this way, because we felt that the team that we were going to put out tonight was going to give us a good chance to get points.”
Three players were back from international duty. Dominic Oduro returned as the lone striker. Nigel Reo-Coker reverted to a central midfield role. Hassoun Camara started a first game in six months after a string of lower-body injuries.
In all, Biello made nine changes from Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Los Angeles. Early on, it showed. Montreal were sloppy, messy, stretched. Chris Wondolowski pounced in the 35th minute for a 1-0 Earthquakes lead. Ambroise Oyongo’s red card for a nasty challenge on Matías Pérez García, it seemed, doomed the Impact four minutes into the second half.
Not so fast, as a quarter-hour later the ball came to Kyle Bekker at the top of the box. The twenty-five year old Canadian, in his first-ever start for Montreal, went for it. With David Bingham cheating far post expecting a cross, Bekker snuck in a long drive inside the near post for the equalizer.
“Going into it, to be honest, I was a little worried – I hadn’t played a game in a while,” Bekker said, perhaps echoing a sentiment shared by some teammates as well. “But I felt comfortable once the game started. I just tried to get some easy touches going in and build some confidence. I just took it step by step.”
The rest of the way at Avaya Stadium wasn’t as serene as four days prior in LA, but the result was the same: another point on the road -- the first such sequence since October 2014 -- more leeway in the MLS Cup Playoffs race and, crucially, more confidence for Biello’s men.
“Like I’ve said, I’d be willing to die on the field for [Biello], and those weren’t just words,” Camara said. “Didier [Drogba] joining the team also did us a world of good. He’s brought a lot of leadership, and we veterans – Nigel, myself, etc. – rallied to lead the group, too. We absolutely want to qualify for the playoffs and go further if possible.”