MONTREAL—Fifteen minutes in the locker room can turn a playoff bracket around.
At halftime on Sunday at Stade Saputo, Toronto FC looked well positioned to host the Montreal Impact in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. They’d worried Montreal more than Montreal had worried them, and Sebastian Giovinco looked like he didn’t want to win the Audi Golden Boot via the assists tiebreaker.
The score was 1-0, thanks to Jozy Altidore. Decision Day, it seemed, had decided BMO Field would finally get a playoff game.
“It was as if we were shy,” said Impact interim head coach Mauro Biello.
Whatever malaise afflicted Montreal in the first-half, it was gone in the second. The Impact turned the game around in brutal fashion: two minutes and two Didier Drogba goals made it 2-1 (HIGHLIGHTS), shifting Thursday’s Knockout Round match to the friendly confines of Stade Saputo (7 pm ET; UniMás, TSN1/4/5, RDS1 or RDS2).
“At halftime, I said, ‘We have to play. We have to close down spaces,’” Biello said. “I pushed them a bit, but in the end, the second half showed that, if we can play and close down spaces for other teams, we can set up shop in their zone and give them a lot of problems.”
More specifically, Biello wanted better ball movement out wide, and Dilly Duka was the answer. Biello sent him on for Johan Venegas at the start of the second half, and Duka delivered the goods. The Montreal boss praised Duka after the game for his hold-up play and willingness to work to keep possession.
Duka’s assessment, meanwhile, was simple: the Impact needed to keep things … simple.
“We have a lot of players that can be dangerous and score goals or give an assist,” Duka said. “Now, we need some guys to sacrifice and just play the simple ball. Once we just started completing passes, our confidence started going up, and we were attacking more. We just needed to keep it simple.”
Good movement down the left, for example. A commanding run by Duka won Montreal the corner kick from which they created Drogba’s second. But Duka’s contributions ranged from the subtle to the powerful, always striving to find the open man and isolate an attacker.
“We knew [Jackson] was on a card, so one of the things that Mauro asked me to do was go at him,” Duka said. “I did, and he’s an athletic guy. He played a good first half. We were able to go at him – not only me; Nacho [Piatti] was cheating on the left a bit, and he was able to go at him, and we created two goals on that side.”
Will Drogba be there to finish the chances? It appears so. Although he took a knock in the 81st minute, Drogba told Biello that he was okay, and he repeated just that in the locker room.