Montreal fought back from an early deficit and beat Columbus 2-1 in the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday at Stade Saputo. The game-winner came on a mistake by Columbus defender Michael Parkhurst, whose pocket was picked by Johan Venegas, who converted on the break.
Columbus got out to a first-half lead with a goal by Federico Higuaín, whose strike was set up on a platter by an errant header from Didier Drogba. Montreal equalized soon thereafter on an unmarked header by Patrice Bernier.
The result sets up a mouth-watering return leg in Columbus, with Montreal feeling good about the one-goal advantage and Columbus feeling confident thanks to its away goal, which could make a difference in a potential tiebreak situation.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
Montreal shut down Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay
Kamara and Finlay have been two of the most dangerous attacking threats in MLS this season, but Montreal’s defensive gameplan worked nearly to perfection, and neither player had much of an influence over 90 minutes. Laurent Ciman has been the best centerback in the league this season, and he kept Kamara from finding the open space that he likes to maneuver into for one-time finishes. Nigel Reo-Coker and Donny Toia also did an admirable job limiting Finlay, who wasn’t nearly as active as he usually is in the Crew attack. If Montreal can repeat this defensive performance again next Sunday, the Impact will have a fantastic chance of advancing.
Mauro Biello is a good coach
Little by little, Biello is making a good case for his boss, Montreal owner Joey Saputo, to drop the interim tag on his job. Montreal has been an improved team since Biello took charge, and not just because of Drogba’s arrival. Biello has overseen the revival of Patrice Bernier, the 36-year-old midfielder who’d been discarded by Frank Klopas. Bernier clearly has gas left in the tank, and he scored in his second straight game to get Montreal back into it. Biello also pulled the right strings by bringing in the Costa Rican Venegas, who made the game’s decisive play just after coming on as a substitute.
Drogba is always in the middle of things
Usually that has meant scoring goals, which he has done 12 times in 13 games for Montreal.
But on Sunday it also meant Drogba was part of a strange sequence late in the game. The former Chelsea great went in for a hard tackle on Columbus keeper Steve Clark, and then followed that up by doing a bearhug on Clark’s leg like Jeff Van Gundy on Alonzo Mourning back in the day. Drogba picked up a yellow card, but you can be sure the video replay will make the rounds on social media over the next 24 hours.
There’s one thing you can say about Drogba: His short time in MLS has been all action, all the time. Next week should be a fun game.