Montreal Impact notched their first Major League Soccer win at the sixth attempt Saturday, beating Canadian rivals Toronto F.C. 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium.
Sinisa Ubiparipovic’s first MLS goal for the Impact and rookie Andrew Wenger’s first professional strike gave the hosts an insurmountable two-goal lead. Danny Koevermans pulled a late goal back for The Reds, who played a man short for the final 25 minutes after Logan Emory’s dismissal.
Toronto’s fourth consecutive defeat matches their worst start to a season set in their 2007 expansion year.
Montreal Head Coach Jesse Marsch made five personnel changes from his side’s 1-0 midweek defeat at Real Salt Lake and reverted to a conventional 4-4-2 formation after using a 4-2-3-1 in Utah.
Tyson Wahl and Zarek Valentin came in at left- and right-back respectively in place of Josh Gardner and Jeb Brovsky. Ubiparipovic earned his first MLS start for Montreal on the right of midfield instead of Justin Mapp. Bernardo Corradi and Sanna Nyassi led the attack with Justin Braun injured and captain Davy Arnaud rested on the bench.
Toronto were also coming off a lengthy midweek commute after their 6-2 loss to Mexico’s Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League semi-final second leg. Head Coach Aron Winter made two changes from the team that started in Torreon. Emory replaced Miguel Aceval in central defense and Koevermans returned to lead the attack with Luis Silva dropping to the bench.
Toronto’s defense has looked fragile this season, particularly since captain Torsten Frings injured his hamstring in the 3-1 loss at Seattle Sounders on March 17. Montreal immediately aimed to put Winter’s back line under pressure by chasing the ball high up the field.
The tactic almost paid off within three minutes. Lamar Neagle caught Julian De Guzman dwelling on the ball 30 yards from his own goal. The former Seattle Sounders winger overhit his pass to Ubiparipovic when Montreal had a 4-vs-4 on the edge of Toronto’s penalty area.
Emory punted clear under pressure from Corradi a minute later as four other Impact forwards converged on Toronto’s defense. Conversely, the Reds’ three forwards and attacking midfielder Ryan Johnson were content to let Montreal have possession in their own half and build from the back.
Toronto’s willingness to drop largely pinned wingers Joao Plata and Nick Soolsma in their own half. Soolsma gave a rare glimpse of his attacking quality on 16 minutes when he cut inside Wahl before wrong-footing the defender with a quick shuffle to create space for a shot. The Dutchman’s left-footed drive slid narrowly wide of Donovan Ricketts’ near post.
Montreal soon regained the upper hand. Neagle turned away from Terry Dunfield in the penalty box and fired in a cross that hit Emory and spun across the goal line.
Another burst of high Montreal pressure led to the opening goal on 18 minutes. Dunfield received a throw-in from Richard Eckersley and swapped passes with De Guzman. The Canadian international’s touch failed him as Neagle closed in, allowing the winger to steal the ball and instantly set up Ubiparipovic on the edge of the penalty area. The former New York Red Bulls midfielder confidently placed his shot into Milos Kocic’s bottom left corner for only his third MLS goal in 76 games.
Reds Gain A Foothold
Montreal had conceded a penalty in each of their previous three games. That run could easily have been extended on 23 minutes. Eckersley spotted a gap behind Collen Warner and Neagle as Soolsma pulled Wahl out to the touchline and the Englishman accelerated into the space between Montreal’s left-back and central defender Matteo Ferrari.
Wahl, trying to recover from the wrong side of his opponent, sent Eckersley tumbling with a sliding challenge on the edge of the area. Montreal were undone by a horrendous penalty decision while leading 2-1 at Red Bull Arena a week earlier. This time the call went in their favor as referee Hilario Grajeda awarded a goal kick.
Toronto’s best chance of the half arrived on 36 minutes. Shavar Thomas headed Soolsma’s right-wing cross out of the penalty area. Eckersley’s excellent first-time pass out to Plata on the left allowed the diminutive winger to swing another ball into the box as Montreal’s defense were recovering their shape. Dunfield beat Ferrari and Wahl to knock the ball down to the unmarked Koevermans on the 6-yard line. Ricketts sprang forward to bravely block the Dutchman’s point-blank header.
Second Half Changes From The Visitors
Toronto began pressing Montreal’s defense straight after the interval. Ferrari miscued his back pass to Ricketts as five red jerseys swarmed around the penalty area, causing the 2010 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year winner to rush his clearance.
Plata scored both of Toronto’s midweek goals against Santos Laguna but he was barely featuring in this game. The Ecuadorian was involved in just 20 incidents, making seven successful passes and losing possession seven times, when Winter replaced him with Silva on 52 minutes. The Los Angeles-born rookie moved to the top of Toronto’s midfield trio with Johnson moving to the left wing. Winter also replaced Eckersley with Doneil Henry.
The Reds were beginning to redress the first half’s possession imbalance although they were struggling to create chances against a solid Montreal defense – a testament to the work being done by Marsch and his coaches with a new group of players.
Montreal almost doubled their lead on 64 minutes with their first good move of the half. Ubiparipovic drifted inside and found Nyassi at the edge of the penalty area. The Gambian international laid the ball back to Felipe, who kept it moving left to Neagle as Toronto’s defense botched an offside trap. Neagle’s cross-shot almost fooled Kocic at his near post, but the goalkeeper managed to kick the ball to safety.
The visitors’ task became harder when last-defender Emory was dismissed for fouling Nyassi on 65 minutes. Still, they remained in the ascendency as Johnson provided a spark that had been missing for the first hour.
The Jamaican dug out a sublime cross from inside the quadrant at the left corner flag on 68 minutes – made more impressive given his body was turned away from goal and Valentin’s closeness. The hulking frames of Koevermans and Ricketts collided, spilling the ball from the goalkeeper’s grasp, but Wahl recovered to block as Koevermans tried to steer it into the net.
Johnson troubled Ricketts with another enticing cross a minute later. The 34-year-old veteran dived smartly to intercept the low ball on his 6-yard line as Koevermans hovered.
Montreal’s stopper was helpless on 71 minutes as Toronto came within an inch of equalizing. Johnson fed Koevermans on the right side of the penalty area and Ricketts inadvertently clawed the Dutchman’s dangerous cross against the back-tracking Valentin. Thomas somehow hooked the rebounding ball off Montreal’s goal line.
Mapp Exploits Gap To Seal Win
Toronto had to take chances to rescue a point and Montreal took advantage of the growing spaces on 81 minutes.
Ferrari blocked Johnson’s attempt after Kocic launched a long free kick to the edge of Montreal’s penalty area. The loose ball fell to substitute Mapp who played a first-time ball into the space behind Toronto’s retreating defense. Fellow substitute Wenger held off Ty Harden, cut inside the laboring defender and wrong-footed Kocic to make it 2-0. The ball hit the net just 19 seconds after Kocic had restarted play.
Toronto fought on. Koevermans stooped to powerfully head substitute Reggie Lambe’s cross beyond Ricketts on 88 minutes to cap a flowing move. It was the last chance that the visitors created.
Montreal’s play in their opening five games deserved more than the one point they had accumulated. Losing can become a habit and can erode confidence. Facing a travel-weary local rival on home soil presented an attractive opportunity for Montreal to notch their first win and they got the job done.
Toronto remains an enigma. An impressive run in the CONCACAF Champions League and the loss of Frings has hampered their league form. They showed enough attacking quality in the second half, even when down to 10 men, to suggest they can reach the play-offs for the first time. Sadly, they spent the first 45 minutes handing the initiative to their grateful opponents.