MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact handed the New York Red Bulls their first loss in nearly four months on Sunday, and they did it just as most observers expected they would.
They were happy to concede the possession battle to the Red Bulls, instead focusing on the defensive cohesion and quick transition that has become a staple of the team's arsenal. And on Sunday it worked to a tee, with Matteo Mancosu grabbing his third goal in two Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs to give Montreal a 1-0 win at Stade Saputo in the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Red Bulls.
"They're a team that pushes a lot forward and they like to play a lot around the ball, press, because they have a lot people around the ball but they leave spaces," Impact captain Patrice Bernier told reporters after the game. "Of course each team has an advantage and a disadvantage in the way they play, and we just have to be patient because they're very good at keeping the ball but we're good at the transition, and it's a game of trying to do what you do best, better than the other team does what their game plan is.
"And it paid off in the second half. In the first half, we struggled or we got pressured, but we're confident in what we do and it paid off in the end."
Mancosu, who scored twice in the Impact's 4-2 win against D.C. United in a Knockout Round game at RFK Stadium on Thursday, struck a blistering half-volley past Red Bulls' keeper Luis Robles the 61st minute after he was sprung free on a quick break by compatriot Marco Donadel.
"I'm very confident," Mancosu said in Italian through a translator. "I feel good. I'm very happy that we won the game. We're going to New York with an advantage, but we haven't finished anything yet."
The Impact are the first team to beat the Red Bulls in MLS competition since a 2-0 loss to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on July 3. And despite holding only 36.7% of the ball on the evening, they comfortably out-shot New York until a late Red Bulls flurry brought the shot total to 11-9 in favor of Montreal.
"It's credit to my players," Montreal coach Mauro Biello said. "For me, it was a fantastic performance. When I have to calculate the emotions of Thursday, the work of Thursday, of what we did to go out and win in D.C. and to come back here in front of our fans, and then come out tonight and win this game against probably the favorite to win the MLS Cup, it was fantastic."
"And we're going to continue to grow, but we're going to rest now, we're going to prepare and get ready to go there."
The Impact will look to hold on to their advantage and advance to the Eastern Conference Championship for the first time in team history at Red Bull Arena on Sunday.