MONTREAL – Who better than an Impact mid-season signing to give them an edge? No, not that guy.
This Sunday night at Stade Saputo, Montreal's Johan Venegas pickpocketed Columbus Crew SC's Michael Parkhurst 13 minutes from full time to score. His goal gave the Montreal Impact a 2-1 win in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Patrice Bernier scored Montreal's other goal, while Federico Higuain’s tally will leave the Crew with a potentially precious away goal when the second leg kicks off next Sunday, November 8, at MAPFRE Stadium.
Fit and ready from their bye into the semis, the Crew played like their usual enterprising selves. They took the game to Montreal, often looking for space down Montreal’s right flank, where Ambroise Oyongo’s approach is equally bold.
Columbus opened the scoring in the 33rd minute, after they took a short free kick to–you guessed it–the left flank. It reached Justin Meram, who crossed to the far post. Didier Drogba tried a headed clearance, but it only fell for the unmarked Higuain, who slammed the ball home into an empty net.
But Montreal were level four minutes later. Wil Trapp conceded a corner that Marco Donadel took. Upon delivery, Impact captain Bernier floated between Gaston Sauro and Kei Kamara to head the ball past Steve Clark.
The equalizer gave the Impact some legs, but Columbus returned from the break and defended with the ball. They controlled the ball for some lengthy periods but failed to capitalize, seemingly content with the away draw.
They were punished in the 77th minute. Venegas pressed Parkhurst, who went down too easily for referee Chris Penso’s taste. Venegas rushed down the left and, despite having Drogba to his right, confidently curled a finish past Clark for the go-ahead goal.
Again, Montreal found some élan after the goal in search for a third one, while Columbus committed numbers forward in a bid for a tying goal. Both teams had shouts for penalty kicks denied, and they will carry on at 2-1 next Sunday.
The truth is, a 2-1 road loss to open up a two-leg series isn’t the worst result ever. I guarantee that if you ask Gregg Berhalter and staff if they’d have taken that result heading into Sunday’s Crew SC trip to Montreal, they’d say, "Yup.”
So the actual scoreline isn’t the concern. The concern is the way it happened, which is summed up in less than 140 characters here:
Hey look, a lapse leading to a shaky spell with plenty of mental errors. It’s the #CrewSC of games 1 through 32.— Patrick Guldan (@GuldanMR) November 2, 2015
Everything good (on the defensive side of the ball) from the last two games for Columbus went up in smoke over the last hour of this one. Credit to a veteran Montreal team who ran through their own fatigue to dole out an appropriate punishment, but this was really self-inflicted damage from the Massive Canary.
They haven’t learned, and after this one their fans feel like maybe they’ll never learn. The second leg next week in Ohio is a decider, a litmus test and maybe a chance for redemption.