The Montreal Impact’s hot late-season run finally came to an end on a chilly night in Ohio.
Leading their Eastern Conference semifinal 2-1 after last week’s first leg, the Impact dropped a 3-1 decision to the Columbus Crew in Sunday’s return match, an entertaining contest featuring end-to-end action, some controversy and a bit of drama. Kei Kamara bagged two goals, including one in extra time, to sink the Impact and eliminate the Canadian club from the playoffs.
Here are my three thoughts on the match…
Nothing to be ashamed about for Impact
Montreal will no doubt be disappointed about this result, but they can be proud of the way they played over the two legs, winning the opener at home by shutting down one of Major League Soccer’s top forwards (more on that later) and then taking the Crew (the second best team in the Eastern Conference, in case you forgot) to extra time in the return match.
What’s more, the fashion in which they turned around their season was nothing short of remarkable. Appearing to be in crisis at the end of August, the club fired Frank Klopas and named Mauro Biello as interim coach. Biello’s re-organization of the team on the field, and Didier Drogba’s hot scoring streak, saw Montreal win seven of their last 11 games (with two draws) to clinch third place in a very tight Eastern Conference table.
How wonderful was it to see Canadian veteran Patrice Bernier, written off by Klopas, play some of his best soccer in years? Bernier scored two playoff goals and started in Montreal’s last three games, repaying the faith shown to him by Biello. And what about Evan Bush? The Impact goalkeeper had a great campaign, but was particularly sensational down the stretch and in the playoffs, firmly establishing as one of MLS’s top starters after toiling in the lower leagues and as a backup for several years.
Columbus was simply the better team over the two legs. There’s should be no shame for Montreal in losing to such a team.
Montreal’s “Big 3” have quiet series
Didier Drogba, Laurent Ciman and Ignacio Piatti were among Montreal’s best players in the opening round win over Toronto FC. Drogba and Piatti both scored, while Ciman quarterbacked a back line that kept Sebastian Giovinco off the score sheet. But Montreal’s “Big 3” were pretty quiet in this series. None of them dominated proceedings, or even played up to the level you would expect from them in a crucial two-legged playoff.
Drogba, in particular, looked far off his best form over both games, and seemed more interested in trying to slow down play with his chicanery than trying to influence matters in a positive manner. The Ivorian’s link-up play, one of his best attributes, was negated by a Crew side that crowded and harried him, and limited him to completing just 13 of 27 passes in the final third on Sunday.
A whirling dervish of creativity against TFC, Piatti appeared to be playing catch up as both legs passed him by, and he hardly bothered the Columbus back line. The Argentine had a chance to score for Montreal late in extra time but he ballooned his shot over the net. That was typical of his play against Columbus in this semfinal series.
Ciman was not his usually commanding presence in defence, and it was actually fellow centre back Victor Cabrera who was Montreal’s outstanding defensive player in the conference semifinals, the Argentine making a number of timely tackles and interceptions.
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Kamara the difference
Kamara put in a man-of-the-match performance, scoring two fabulous headers—including the decisive goal in extra time—to send Montreal crashing out of the post-season.
Kamara was a passenger and completely anonymous in the first leg at Stade Saputo. The Sierra Leone forward, who netted 22 goals during the regular season, was kept quiet in Montreal, tightly marked and afforded little space by the Impact’s defenders, and neutralized in the air. In total, the Crew were limited to just three shots on target, and Kamara only had one of them.
On Sunday, though, we saw a different Kamara—the one who is a finalist for the league’s MVP award. His opening goal in the fourth minute saw him beat his marker to a cross played deep into the box before nodding it home past a helpless Bush in the Montreal net. Then in extra time, he drifted towards the back post before hitting a looping header over Bush that nestled majestically into the back of the net.
All night Kamara posed major problems for the Montreal defence. Unlike last week, he was able to get clear sight on goal far more often, firing six shots in total—three on target.