With backs against the wall, Impact showed resolve against D.C. United

Montreal has advanced to the 16-team knockout stage of the MLS is Back tournament and will play Orlando City SC on Saturday.

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There was nothing scintillating or spectacular about the Impact on this night. And yet, Montreal defeated D.C. United 1-0.

Five nights earlier against Toronto FC, a three-goal outburst was moot because the Impact forgot how to play defence — and lost 4-3.

We’re not sure what this all means, but in sports perhaps the breaks have a way of evening out and teams end up getting what they deserve.

“It was pretty against Toronto, right?” Impact manager Thierry Henry said after Tuesday’s win over D.C. United. “And we lost. Very pretty. Everyone cried that we had the ball against Toronto the whole time, and we ended up losing the game. You have to find a way to win. Today, we did. Today, we fought well. We responded well. Now we have to wait.”

The Impact edged D.C. United in Tuesday night’s late game of the MLS is Back Tournament on a goal by Saphir Taïder in the 31st minute at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida. Montreal completed the group stage portion of the tournament with a 1-2 record and placed third in its bracket. The Impact’s all-important goal differential is minus-1.


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When FC Cincinnati beat the New York Red Bulls Wednesday night, it guaranteed that the Impact would end up as one of the four best third-place clubs in the tournament, allowing Montreal to advance to the 16-team knockout stage. The Impact will meet Orlando City SC on Saturday. Orlando finished first in Group A with a 2-0-1 record.

Many people probably had written the Impact off after they lost their first two games of the tournament. A win against D.C. United was required, and even though Montreal prospered from a fluke goal, the team got the job done.

Taïder’s third goal in two games was a shot from distance that deflected off the outstretched right leg of D.C. defender Frédéric Brillant and past goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who appeared well positioned to make the save.

“The goal might be a bit lucky,” Henry conceded, “but if you don’t shoot, you don’t score.

“We have to wait to know if we pass (into the next round), but we got back,” he added. “And that was important.”

It also shouldn’t be forgotten the three tournament matches completed count in the MLS regular-season standings, assuming the league resumes by September — no guarantee considering the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Impact, which had a win and a draw before league play was suspended in March, now has an overall 2-2-1 record. The Impact has missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.

Henry might now have found a starting 11 he can live and prosper with in his first season as Impact bench boss.


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After playing with three centre backs and watching his team struggle, Henry returned to a 4-4-3 formation against D.C. United. That allowed Victor Wanyama to play midfield, where he’s more efficient and productive. The move, however, also meant defender and team captain Jukka Raitala was dressed but didn’t play. Another defender, Rudy Camacho, was still in Montreal after returning last week to be with his pregnant wife.

“It’s always better when the guys can wake up … with a win,” Henry said. “You work a bit better. You smile a bit better and wake up a bit better. Today, they showed me they can respond. It wasn’t pleasant or pretty in the second half. We hanged in there, stayed tight and kept the result that we needed.”

“We’re a good group,” said Wanyama, who escaped serious injury in the first half when Felipe’s cleats caught him in the left thigh, close to the knee, on a dangerous tackle. “I feel like we’ve started gelling well as a team, defending well as a unit and playing as a team.”

Impact goalkeeper Clément Diop — who has played every minute and clearly supplanted veteran Evan Bush — faced 12 shots, including three on target. He was at his best in the second half, when it seemed the Impact was constantly under pressure.

Diop made two leg saves in quick order in the 57th and 58th minutes, first on Ulises Segura from distance, then on 17-year-old Kevin Paredes from seven yards out.

“I made two kick saves, but the most important thing is the team,” Diop said. “The team scored a goal and we won. We didn’t win because I made saves. We can’t win games if we don’t score. The credit’s to the team.

“As a goalkeeper, when I allow four goals (against Toronto) I’m ashamed. It’s me who allows them, nobody else. Even if we’re a team, it’s personal.”



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