In a match with serious playoff implications for both sides, it was the Bleu-Blanc-and-Noir who ultimately came out on top.
Two points. That’s all that separated eighth place from ninth, and the Philadelphia Union from the Montréal Impact heading into Wednesday night’s vital Eastern Conference match.
Tonight was the first meeting between Montréal and Philadelphia since the two sides settled for a thrilling, yet equally disappointing 3-3 draw at Talen Energy Stadium back in April. That match was arguably the wakeup call the Union desperately needed, as Curtin’s side went on a historic six match unbeaten run.
Montréal had a similar surge of their own in the month of May, which extended into the month of June. However, because of both sides’ dire starts to the season, results have been canceled out, and both have remained in the bottom half of the table.
And so, when eighth met ninth sparks flew. There were cards, heavy challenges and everything was to play for in this one.
Montréal maintained much of the possession to start the contest (it was 62% to 38% in favor of the Bleu-Blanc-and-Noir, at one point). That was to be expected, however. Philadelphia often trails teams in that particular category. A possession style game just isn’t how Curtin’s team plays.
Instead, they look to counter, which they did in the 16th minute. It was a hard run from Fafa Picault that started the attack for the Union. Ilsinho and Roland Alberg joined in on the assault, but were ultimately unrewarded by their effort in the end.
A sprawling Alberg was unable to get on the end of Picault’s cross close to the byline, while a visibly frustrated Ilsinho put his hands in the air. He was probably Picault’s better option, but the Union’s speedy winger attempted to thread it through the seam instead. It was easily the Union’s best look at goal throughout most of the first half.
It would be Montréal who struck first blood inside Stade Saputo, and it would come in the 19th minute off of a header by Belizean international, Michael Salazar. Giliano Wijnaldum gave Montréal’s right back, Chris DuVall, a little too much space and time to put the ball on a platter. DuVall did the rest.
Salazar looked threatening throughout the rest of the first half, as did Montréal, who generated much of the game’s scoring chances.
Few opportunities came the Union’s way, until a shocking moment in the 45th minute from DuVall, who made a careless back pass to keeper Evan Bush. Fafa Picault took full advantage of DuVall’s relatively week pass and slotted it passed Bush, as cool as one would like. DuVall will surely want to get that one back.
By the end of the first 45′, the Union had just two shots to their name. Fortunately for them, one of those resulted in an equalizing goal.
It didn’t take long for the home side to annul DuVall’s costly mistake. For many watching, it looked as if Montréal wonder-kid, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, would break the deadlock in the 51st minute. However, the youngster was denied a sure goal by a fearless John McCarthy, who sacrificed his body and went to ground.
Instead, it was Swiss talisman, Blerim Dzemaili, who ultimately put the Canadian outfit ahead. Dzemaili followed up a botched shot by waltzing freely into the box and smashing one home.
Again, it was Wijnaldum who backed off. But to be fair, the entire Union backline watched on, even as the Swiss international celebrated what would ultimately be the match-winning goal.
From that point onward, it was typical second half Union soccer: gritty, ugly and quite frankly, hard to watch.
It was certainly not good seeing the Union’s only goal scorer in the contest, Picault, go down holding a hamstring in the 66th minute. Picault came up limping after an earlier run he made, racing against Bush to a loose ball.
We will keep you updated when we hear word of Picault’s status. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious.
Jay Simpson was called upon to replace Picault, and the Englishman turned out to be a lone bright spot for the Union the rest of the match. Simpson had several inspiring runs, elegant turns, flashes of pace, and he even managed two shots that truly tested Bush.
It was good to see Simpson follow up a solid outing against Swansea last weekend, including the fluidity of CJ Sapong and Simpson playing together.
Speaking of Sapong: will he ever get a call to go his way? Man gets mugged from behind by every center back in the league. Laurent Ciman was all over him tonight.
Roland Alberg, who had himself a relatively quiet night, to be fair, nearly quieted the home crowd with a well-timed volley into the top shelf. It was an awe-inspiring effort from Goalberg, but it ultimately came from offside territory.
That had SportsCenter written all over it.
Montréal threatened on several occasions after that, and the home side looked primed to score a third, but in the end the match ended 2-1. Dzemaili’s goal sent the Union packing for Columbus, along with their three-match unbeaten run.
It’s a result that could very well haunt the Union later in the Fall.
Here’s how the table shapes up, following the Union’s loss at Stade Saputo.
Next up for the Union: Columbus Crew SC away. It’s the second match for Curtin’s team in three days, the first installment of a back-to-back series, as well as another crucial fixture in the Union’s quest to finish in a coveted playoff position.
Be sure to check out the next edition of U in Preview on Friday. UnionFanTV will supply you with everything you, the Fan, need to know about our next opponent, Columbus Crew SC, the current playoff picture and the latest news surrounding your Philadelphia Union.