HARRISON, NJ – For the first time in his history, the Impact made it to the Eastern Conference Championship, this Sunday, beating the New York Red Bulls by a 1-0 scoreline in the return leg of the Conference Semis. The Bleu-blanc-noir thus picked up a 3-1 aggregate win in the series, with the bonus of a first-ever triumph at Red Bull Arena.
With this history-marking win, the first by a Canadian MLS team, the Impact will now take on either New York City FC or Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Championship starting on Tuesday, November 22 at 8pm at the Olympic Stadium.
“I am happy for everyone on this team,” said Impact head coach Mauro Biello. This group came together and started believing that this team can go far. I am very proud of this team that represents our city so well. It’s a great joy for me to see my team perform as it did tonight.”
Bleu-blanc-noir ruthless in transition
As was expected, the Red Bulls piled on the pressure on the Bleu-blanc-noir in the opening minutes. But the Impact challenged New York, and the home team had to break up a Dominic Oduro with a foul as early as the fifth minute.
Montrealers held their collective breath 20 minutes in, as Gonzalo Verón was tripped up in the area. Referee Baldomero Toledo pointed to the spot, but goalkeeper Evan Bush dived to his right to deny Sacha Kljestan. This was Bush’s second straight penalty stop (after September 28, as he made the save on Chris Wondolowski) and a second in as many MLS Cup Playoffs – he had stopped Kei Kamara on November 8, 2015, against Columbus.
After more sequences of play in its own area, the Impact was able to move forward more midway through the half as the Red Bulls played without Kljestan for long moments. Stuck with a bloody nose, the New York midfielder only returned to play after getting treatments – and gauze stuffed up both nostrils.
“Against this team, you really need to clog the middle, and we did that efficiently,” said Evan Bush. “We pushed the game wide and defended crosses well. We didn’t let their striker behind us. We’re really excited about this Conference Championship, and so are our fans.”
Both teams traded chances late on in the first half. In the 41st, Ambroise Oyongo and Nacho Piatti played a nice one-two down the left, but Oyongo’s shot landed into the outside of the net. Two minutes later, New York tried their luck on the left. Kljestan’s curler, however, missed at the far post.
The Bleu-blanc-noir showed purpose in the first minutes of the second half and got its reward in the 51st. After a beautiful Oduro switch to the left, Piatti picked up the ball and swivelled past Chris Duvall before unleashing a fierce left-footed shot that Luis Robles could only partially stop. With Piatti’s second of these MLS Cup Playoffs, the Impact scored the precious road goal that eluded the Red Bulls at Stade Saputo.
“The entire team did well,” said Nacho Piatti. “I am thrilled to be part of this group. The entire team has the same mentality and is shooting for MLS Cup. We’re in the Conference Championship, and we’ll give everything to reach our goal.”
The Red Bulls inevitably notched up the pressure on Montreal, as they needed three goals to reach the Conference Championship. Bradley Wright-Phillips, who had flubbed a couple of opportunities in Montreal, missed another in the 62nd as he headed the ball over from very close range on a corner kick.
But Wright-Phillips pulled one back for the Red Bulls in the 77th minute. After a cutback from Daniel Royer, New York’s forward took a shot that deflected off a defender and rolled into the net.
Montreal, however, was not done thrilling the away supporters section at Red Bull Arena. In the 85th minute, Oduro chased the ball down the left and spotted Drogba down the middle. Upon receiving the ball, Drogba chose not to shoot but to play the ball wide to an onrushing Piatti, who beat Robles with a low shot and sent Montreal to the Conference Championship.
The Impact will on either Toronto FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship series, scheduled for Tuesday, November 22, at 8pm at the Olympic Stadium. Tickets are currently on sale on impactmontreal.com.
NY – GK-Luis Robles; D-Chris Duvall, Damien Perrinelle, Aurélien Collin, Sal Zizzo; M-Alex Muyl (Daniel Royer 53’), Felipe (Mike Grella 59’), Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, Gonzalo Verón; F-Bradley Wright-Phillips
Subs not used – GK-Kyle Reynish; D-Aaron Long, Justin Bilyeu; M-Shaun Wright-Phillips, Sean Davis
MTL – GK-Evan Bush; D-Hassoun Camara, Víctor Cabrera, Laurent Ciman, Ambroise Oyongo; M-Dominic Oduro, Hernán Bernardello (Johan Venegas 88’), Marco Donadel, Patrice Bernier (Calum Mallace 65’), Ignacio Piatti; F-Matteo Mancosu (Didier Drogba 80’)
Subs not used – GK-Eric Kronberg; D-Donny Toia, Wandrille Lefèvre; M-Harry Shipp
MTL – Piatti (Oduro) 51’
NY – Wright-Phillips (Royer, Perrinelle) 77’
MTL – Piatti (Drogba, Oduro) 85’
NY – Felipe 13’
MTL – Bush 56’
MTL – Ciman 63’
NY – McCarty 74’
NY – Kljestan 89’
MTL – Venegas 90’ + 2′