MONTREAL — Jesse Marsch promised that his Montreal Impact side wouldn’t go down without a fight.
And that’s just how it turned out.
The Impact’s 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo on Saturday in Texas officially eliminated the expansion side from the MLS playoff race, but the team showed plenty of character over the course of the 90 minutes.
After the Dynamo opened the scoring in the first half and really started to dominate, it seemed like the Impact would go on to lose by three or four goals. Instead, they stayed in the game, drew level courtesy of Sanna Nyassi in the 66th minute, and on a few occasions even came close to finding the winner.
But against a Dynamo side that has yet to lose at home this season, getting a point was still a positive result for Montreal and certainly a far cry from the decimating 3-0 loss suffered the last time around in July.
So Marsch couldn’t complain.
“It was a little disappointing because we know what position we are in now,” Marsch said. “We needed to win, but one point in Houston is very respectable. We will continue to battle to ensure we finish first for the Canadian Championship in 2013.”
With two games to go, the Impact are one point behind the Vancouver Whitecaps. Finishing ahead of the Whitecaps — and Toronto FC — in the overall MLS standings would mean that the Impact would play FC Edmonton in next year’s Amway Canadian Championship semifinal, and that would make for a considerably easier passage to the final and ultimately the CONCACAF Champions League.
But now that the Impact are out of the playoffs, Marsch will be able to — and should — experiment a little more with his side and maybe deploy a player or two that hasn’t featured all that much this season, like local native Karl Ouimette.
One player that did get a chance on Saturday against the Dynamo was 2012 MLS SuperDraft second round pick Calum Mallace, who made his second start of the season. Replacing the suspended Collen Warner, Mallace played in his preferred centre midfield role this time, and the 22-year-old put on a very energetic and determined display.
In his passing and placement, he still has his work cut out for him, but he definitely showed that he can play in this league and be a viable option for the Impact’s midfield next season.
Surely now is the time for Marsch to learn as much as he can about the younger players he has at his disposal, and for them to really get acclimated to the league.
After a bright start to life with the Impact in July, Alessandro Nesta has looked somewhat physically out of sorts in recent outings, particularly in Montreal’s previous three road matches where he’s been guilty of several mistakes that have cost his team dearly.
The long season that the Italian had with AC Milan is taking a serious toll.
However, with a good rest in the off-season and with a proper pre-season training camp with the Impact, the 38-year-old Italian should be able to put in one final strong campaign and cap off what has been an illustrious career.
But since it has undoubtedly become apparent that even the greatest of defenders will struggle if they can’t keep up, it would be best for the Impact to pursue defenders that are able to cope with the physical demands of the league from now on.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer who covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com. Follow Nick on Twitter.