MONTREAL — Giving youngster Michael Salazar a rare start was exactly what the Montreal Impact needed to begin the second half of their season with a bang.
The 24-year-old Salazar scored and added an assist in just his second start of the season as the Impact defeated the visiting Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Wednesday night.
"Coach is always talking to me, telling me to be myself out there and enjoy the game," said Salazar, who replaced Dominic Oduro on the right wing. "We work on little stuff here and there, but I let the game come to me and find my spots and just enjoy my game. And that’s what I’m trying to do now.
"I’m doing my best with the chance I get."
The Impact (6-6-6), who have yet to lose back-to-back games in MLS this season, climbed to eighth in the Eastern Conference while the Union (6-8-5) fell to ninth.
After finding the back of the net two weeks ago in Houston, Salazar scored his second goal in as many games to give the Impact a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute against the Union
Fancy footwork by defender Chris Duvall near the sideline helped open up a crossing lane. The defender then sent a right-footed cross into the box and Salazar fired a header past the outstretched John McCarthy.
"Me and Chris in pre-season, we had a very good relationship," said Salazar. "We’ve been doing it in training a lot. When he gets wide, I understand what he wants to do with the ball. Just getting the chance to see it happen in the game is a relief."
Salazar now has two goals in seven appearances for Montreal this season. The Belize international had two goals in 17 appearances last year.
With the score tied 1-1 in the second half, Salazar found Blerim Dzemaili open at the edge of the penalty box. The Swiss midfielder cut back to elude two defenders and made no mistake from in close in the 51st minute.
"We wanted to press today. We worked on it all week," said Impact coach Mauro Biello. "Michael is able to high press, he’s able to work. He’s able to put the opposing team under pressure. He did an excellent job of recovering a lot of second balls. That was one of the factors behind the decision. I thought he deserved a start.
"Some players are earning their playing time. We asked Michael to do a few things for us and he executed from A to Z."
Midfielder Fafa Picault scored the only goal for Philadelphia, which lost for the first time in four games and remain winless on the road in MLS since the month of May (0-3-1).
Duvall was at fault on the Union’s goal. Picault intercepted his soft back pass to goalkeeper Evan Bush and beat the Impact ‘keeper between the legs in the 43rd minute for his fifth goal of the year.
"We had opportunities to get a goal early but we just didn’t execute," said Union coach Jim Curtin. "We were in the game and pushed the tempo in the second half. But overall we weren’t sharp on the ball and Montreal punished us."
The Impact made a bad habit of squandering leads and giving up late goals in the first half of their season, but they held on tight for all three points against the Union.
Philadelphia looked to have scored the equalizer in the 86th minute but Roland Alberg’s pretty volley was called back for offside.
"In the first half of the season, we gave up a lot of goals late in games," said Dzemaili, who scored his fourth of the season. "We really want to close out games better."
Montreal was without Ignacio Piatti (adductor injury), captain Patrice Bernier (Gold Cup) and Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Gold Cup).
Philadelphia also had two players on international duty at the Gold Cup: Andre Blake (Jamaica) and Chris Pontius (United States).
Notes: The game was delayed 15 minutes due to torrential rain. â€¦ There were 16,660 fans in attendance at Saputo Stadium. â€¦ Montreal plays again on Saturday against FC Dallas.