Saphir Taider celebrates goal vs. Columbus
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Taider's all-around play powers Montreal's playoff push: "He's huge for us"

MONTREAL – When referee Alan Kelly called for a penalty at the 32nd minute of the Montreal Impact’s game against Columbus Crew SC on Saturday, it wasn’t Ignacio Piatti or Alejandro Silva who stepped up to the spot.

Instead it was the team’s No. 8, Saphir Taider. Piatti personally told Silva to move away and let the 26-year-old Algerian international take the shot.

“I had already spoken with Nacho [Piatti] a few days ago and he gave me his blessing, so I thank him,” Taider said about taking, and netting, the Impact’s next penalty, a key step in IMFC's 3-0 win

Taider arrived in Montreal from Bologna last winter with big shoes to fill. Immediately after after unveiling the new Designated Player, Impact staff unveiled that he would don the No. 8 jersey most recently worn by former captain and club icon Patrice Bernier.

Adding to the task of wearing an important number for the club, Taider also had to make Impact fans forget about former DP Blerim Dzemaili. Having navigated a tough transition in his first few months, the Algerian is now an integral part of the Impact’s success in 2018.

“He’s a very important player for us. He did on a lot [on Saturday]; Micheal [Azira] and I,  we sat a little bit more behind so we could give him more freedom,” said holding midfielder Samuel Piette. “I think that he was part of every goal and to have our top player perform at this level is huge.”

With one goal and two assists in Saturday’s win, Taider was indeed a part of every goal his team had scored. The Algerian started making his mark on the Impact when he recorded a two-goal performance for the first time since August 2012 in a 2-1 home win over the Colorado Rapids back on July 7.

Since that memorable summer night, Taider has recorded four goals and five assists to help the Impact fight for the Eastern Conference’s last spot in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. For Piette, who plays alongside him in Remi Garde’s 4-3-3 formation, Taider’s strong contribution goes above and beyond the statistics.

“He’s a guy that works on both sides,” Piette said. “Defensively, he’s not scared to put in a tackle or track back a guy, but offensively are his big qualities. He’s really comfortable on the ball, trying to dictate the play, and he’s huge for us.”

Piette used Saturday’s win as an example of Taider’s impact on the team.

“At the start of the game we didn’t have a lot of space in the middle, and we had trouble looking for him and he was able to find a little bit of space,” Piette said. “It was hard, but he was there trying to get out of the pressure. He’s always trying to get on the ball, trying to get us out of the pressure.”

In the past, observers could confidently say that any scoring for the Impact needed to go through the feet of Piatti; Taider now offers needed offensive depth. With two regular-season games left, the Algerian remains humble while also realizing his role as a leader on a team that aspires to replicate their run to the Eastern Conference Championship stage in 2016.

“It’s true that it’s important to be an example and to show others the way,” said Taider. “It worked well for us [on Saturday], we can’t do everything on our own and we’re a team. We’re really happy with the win, but also with the way we got it.”