Impact revved up to be part of ‘401 Derby’
Montreal beats Red Bulls 3-1 on aggregate to set up all-Canadian showdown
HARRISON, N.J.— Evan Bush was looking ahead. And why not? The prospect of a Montreal-Toronto playoff series was too tantalizing to dismiss.
“It looks like it’s going to be a 401 Derby, conference final-style,” said Bush, after Ignacio Piatti scored two goals in the second half to lead the Montreal Impact to a 2-1win over the New York Red Bulls in the second leg of the MLS Eastern semifinal series Sunday.
With the win, the Impact advanced to the Eastern championship, where they will meet Toronto FC. This marks the first time in franchise history the Impact have reached the conference final.
“I’m not sure if MLS really likes that,” said Bush, who finished with three saves. “We’re going to be excited about it, our fans are going to be excited about it and Canada as a whole will be excited about it.”
The first leg of the Eastern Conference final will be held Nov. 22 at the 55,000-seat Olympic Stadium instead of the 20,801-seat Saputo Stadium that the Impact typically calls home.
The Impact had won the first leg of the home-and-home series, defeating the Red Bulls 1-0 at Saputo Stadium on Oct. 30. Montreal won the series 3-1 on aggregate.
“The advantage we brought into this game really helped us,” Bush said. “We were able to sit and keep the game in front of us.”
Against the second-highest scoring team in the regular season — NYCFC scored 62 — the Impact employed a version of hockey’s neutral zone trap to force New York to play on the perimeter, instead of the middle of the pitch.
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Bush said. “We’re trying to push the game wide.”
While the Red Bulls outshot Montreal 17-7 and were even on shots on target (4-4), few shots could be qualified as dangerous until Bradley Wright-Phillips’ goal in the 77th minute.
“I felt good about our tactics,” New York coach Jesse Marsch said.
In an attempt to counteract the Impact’s trap, the Red Bulls tried stretch passes to their skilled attackers. But Montreal’s defenders stayed with the New York forwards.
“We worried about Wright-Phillips getting in behind,” Bush said. “They tried getting him behind a few times.
“When you have an advantage in a series there’s no reason to let a striker get in behind you.”
The Impact was unable to create much of an offensive attack in the first half. Montreal was outshot 6-2 in the opening 45 minutes and trailed significantly in time of possession, 58.2 per cent to 41.8. For the game, the Red Bulls had a 64.5-percent to 35.5-per-cent advantage in time of possession.
New York had the two best scoring chances of the first half. The first came in the 20th minute as midfielder Sacha Kljestan’s penalty was stopped by Bush.
“Typically he goes to the goalkeeper’s left side 75 per cent of the time,” Bush said. “I took a chance, took a gamble and went to the other side. And it paid off.”
Prior to halftime, Bush swallowed a relatively harmless drive off the foot of midfielder Sal Zizzo.
Piatti broke the deadlock by elevating a shot over Luis Robles. Piatti, who finished third in the MLS with 17 goals in the regular season, scored his first of the playoffs.
“At (a) crucial moment because usually the 60th minute is a benchmark where you start getting fatigued, tired, maybe you lose concentration,” Patrice Bernier said. “That goal came at a good time to give us an extra boost to finish off this game.”
Impact defender Hassoun Camara stretches to stop the run of Red Bulls midfielder Gonzalo Veron during Sunday’s Eastern conference semifinal clash.