Here’s what happened with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact in Major League Soccer’s playoffs on Sunday, in case you missed it…
WHAT STOOD OUT
A missed opportunity for Whitecaps?
The Vancouver Whitecaps were the only MLS team to have a winning road record during the regular season, and this game offered an insight it why they’ve been so good away from home. The Whitecaps brilliantly managed the match, thwarting and stifling the Timber’s attack with a mixture of physical and astute positional play (especially from centre back Kendall Waston). While hardly conservative in attack, Vancouver was prudent in sending players forward, and did a good job of keeping its defensive shape and staying organized. They also relied on great goalkeeping by David Ousted, and they rode their luck for the final 20 minutes as Portland poured on the pressure and hit the post in the final minute of regulation. All in all, the Whitecaps will be pleased to head home for the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal having recorded a clean sheet on the road.
Still, you have to wonder if this was a wasted opportunity for the Whitecaps. They created very little against a Portland side that was coming off a tiring playoff win on Thursday—a game that lasted 120 minutes and then went to a shootout—and who were without star midfielder Diego Chara through injury. Portland was also missing No. 1 goalkeeper in Adam Kwarasey due to illness. Backup Jake Gleeson was playing his first MLS game since 2011, but the Whitecaps did little to test him, as none of their three shots on net were dangerous. True, the Whitecaps did get something out of this game. It could have got more had they been a bit more adventurous.
Bernier reborn under Biello
Patrice Bernier’s late season turnaround continued on Sunday, with the veteran Canadian midfielder scoring his second goal in as many playoff games and playing a pivotal role in Montreal’s first leg win in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It wasn’t that long ago that Bernier’s future at the club was in question, as he didn’t figure into former coach Frank Klopas’ plans and he saw limited action, mostly off the bench. But since Mauro Biello took over as manager, Bernier has been given a chance—he’s appeared in Montreal’s last eight games, and started four—and played every bit of a starring role in the Impact’s playoff run as designated players Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti.
On Sunday, Bernier scored the crucial equalizer just minutes after the Crew opening the scoring, and he was an attacking dynamo in midfield, getting into dangerous positions in the final third of the pitch and making a number of probing runs. It’s not an exaggeration to say Bernier is playing his best soccer in years, and a portion of the credit must be given to Biello for still believing in the Canadian veteran. “When he came in we had a quick conversation and he reminded me of the things I’ve done for this team in the past and what I can bring in the future. He told me everybody would get an opportunity to prove themselves,” Bernier recently told Sportsnet.
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Moments after coming in as a substitute, Johan Venegas pressured Michael Parkhurst before stripping the Columbus Crew defender and rushing in on goal. Even though he had Didier Drogba with him on a two-on-one, Venegas took the chance himself, slotting home with a cool finish into the far corner in the 77th minute to give Montreal a 2-1 lead.
In the 72nd minute, Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted shifted across his goal line to brilliantly push a curling Diego Valeri free kick destined for the upper right corner out and around the post.
The standing ovation that Patrice Bernier received from the Stade Saputo crowd as he was being subbed out in the second half was pretty special.
Portland defeated Sporting Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs on Thursday thanks in large part to KC’s Saad Abdul Salaam managing to hit both posts with his shot before bouncing out. After Urruti hit the post, Ives Galarcep came up with this:
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Portland has just one home loss to Vancouver in nine all-time @MLS meetings (three wins and four draws).
• Vancouver is now winless in five straight MLS road matches (with three losses).
• When tied 0-0 at half in MLS this season, Vancouver is 6-3-3.
• Montreal is unbeaten in its last seven MLS home games, with six wins..
• The Impact have lost just once at home to Columbus in six all-time MLS meetings (with four wins).
• Columbus is winless in nine straight MLS road playoff games (with six losses). It’s last playoff win on the road was vs. San Jose on Sept. 25, 2002.
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Kendall Waston: The Vancouver centre-back put in a commanding performance, especially in the first half. He won a number of aerial battles, was tidy in possession and made countless interceptions.
2) Patrice Bernier: Scored his second goal is any many playoff games for the Impact, and was a driving force in midfield before being subbed out for Venegas..
3) David Ousted: The Danish goalkeeper made six saves on the day, including some crucial stops in the second half to help Vancouver leave Portland with a clean sheet.