Montreal Impact earned their first point in Major League Soccer Saturday with a 1-1 tie against Chicago Fire at the Olympic Stadium.
Captain Davy Arnaud headed the Canadians into a 56th-minute lead with his team’s first MLS goal. Dominic Oduro equalized for the visitors 15 minutes later when he guided Sebastian Grazzini’s cross beyond Impact goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
A record crowd for a Canadian soccer match of 58,912 urged Montreal forward for the winner. They were unfortunate to be denied in the fifth minute of stoppage time when Josh Gardner’s thumping 30-yard drive cannoned off the goal frame.
Montreal Head Coach Jesse Marsch stuck with the same players and 4-4-2 line-up that lost 2-0 at Vancouver Whitecaps in their MLS opener on March 10.
This was Chicago’s first game of the new season. Head Coach Frank Klopas fielded the 4-3-1-2 formation that brought the Fire to the periphery of last year’s play-off race after a dismal start.
Argentine schemer Grazzini operated in the hole behind vibrant front pair Oduro and Patrick Nyarko. Italian goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi made his debut after his recent transfer from Internazionale. German defender Arne Friedrich still awaits clearance before he can arrive in Chicago.
Montreal started the game confidently with good possession and full-backs Gardner and Jeb Brovsky looking to attack as often as possible. Chicago’s narrow midfield allowed Montreal’s wide defenders to push into the Fire’s half when center-backs Tyson Wahl and Matteo Ferrari had the ball.
Gardner combined with Justin Braun down the left on eight minutes. Sanna Nyassi carelessly strayed into an offside position as former Chivas USA forward Braun tried to send him through on goal.
Braun’s first attempt came on 17 minutes as Montreal again attacked down Chicago’s exposed right side. Young Brazilian midfielder Felipe linked up with Justin Mapp, beating the overlapping Gardner to the former Fire midfielder’s return pass, before cutting the ball back toward the penalty spot. Braun wheeled to send his left-foot shot goalward, forcing Tornaghi to tip over his crossbar.
Another offside call denied Montreal on 35 minutes. Nyassi’s right-wing cross found Mapp at the back post. His driven shot across the 6-yard line was steered into the net by Braun, but the forward had edged beyond Chicago’s last defender.
Braun came close again four minutes later as Montreal finished the first half strongly. The strapping forward’s excellent movement got him in front of Chicago’s defense to meet Mapp’s cross. He couldn’t turn his head enough to direct his effort on target.
First-year teams habitually struggle to score goals. Seattle Sounders were the most potent expansion side of the past seven seasons with 38 goals from 30 games in 2009, an average of 1.27 goals per game. Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake and Toronto F.C. failed to average a goal per game. The strike records of Montreal’s front duo don’t inspire confidence that the Impact can break this trend.
Braun scored 25 goals in 76 MLS games, including playoffs, during four seasons with Chivas USA. Nyassi’s rate is poorer – just seven goals in 70 games for Seattle and Colorado Rapids.
Marsch has quickly molded his side into a competitive outfit capable of playing attractive soccer, but that familiar scoring tale could become a major affliction. Braun’s height and strength make him the focal point for Montreal’s attack, but much of his best work happens away from the penalty area. The 24-year-old shows great eagerness to offer himself as an outlet on both flanks. Unfortunately this takes a major aerial threat out of Montreal’s arsenal when crosses arrive in the box. That 39th-minute chance was Braun’s only headed effort of the game.
Klopas Changes Chicago’s Shape
Nyarko dropped into a deeper role on the left of Chicago’s midfield after the interval to combat Montreal’s width. Logan Pause, Pavel Pardo and Marco Pappa each shuffled slightly across the midfield line. The Impact still regained the upper hand and Tornaghi pushed Felipe’s shot wide for a corner on 54 minutes.
Marsch also changed his approach at the break with Nyassi pulling wide to the right and Arnaud moving more centrally. Those two combined to give Montreal the lead on 56 minutes. Felipe created space for Nyassi on the right after jinking past Pardo and dragging Gonzalo Segares forward to confront him. Felipe slipped the ball to Nyassi on the right edge of the penalty area and Arnaud broke into the box to glance the Gambian’s cross into Tornaghi’s far corner.
Klopas responded with a couple of personnel changes – Frederico Puppo for the ineffective Pappa and rookie Hunter Jumper for Segares. The Fire clawed themselves level on 71 minutes.
Grazzini finally found space behind Montreal’s midfield to receive a ball to his feet from Nyarko and advance toward the penalty box. The former Racing Club midfielder floated a teasing cross beyond the Impact’s defense for the outstretched Oduro to prod past Ricketts.
Montreal’s Final Flurry
Marsch threw on veteran Italian striker Bernardo Corradi and Lamar Neagle for Braun and Patrice Bernier in the last 15 minutes as Montreal sought three points. Klopas replaced Grazzini with Daniel Paladini as the visitors focused on avoiding defeat.
Nyassi found space in the penalty area on 86 minutes after Jumper slipped on the patchwork Astroturf surface. His near-post shot was beaten away by Tornaghi when he needed to go across the goalkeeper to the far corner.
Montreal almost snatched the win with the final move of the game. Gardner advanced onto a loose ball outside the penalty area as Chicago struggled to clear. The Texan’s shot left Tornaghi without a hope, but the ball rebounded from the goalkeeper’s left post.
Montreal were unfortunate not to grab the win that the insatiable Quebec fans demanded. This was the second week where Marsch’s side performed admirably, and sharper finishing would have seen them emerge victorious.
Grazzini’s playmaking qualities for Chicago shone through on the one occasion where he found space in the final third to play a forward ball toward goal. Much of the Fire’s success this season will depend upon finding him in this area between the opposition’s midfield and defense.