Karl Ouimette, a 21-year-old fullback for the Montreal Impact, electrified the crowd of 18,993 in Stade Saputo when he headed in his first career goal in the 84th minute of the Impact’s final home game of the 2013 season to give the squad a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union. Ouimette’s goal, a redirection of midfielder Justin Mapp’s curling free kick, could not have come at a more opportune time as the Impact had headed into the game locked in a three-way tie with the Chicago Fire and the Union for the final two playoff spots.
Marco Di Vaio, now a grizzled 37-year-old veteran, was once again impressive for the hosts as he made his mark on the scoresheet for the 20th time this season in the MLS, a mark that sees him tied atop the scoring race with Fire forward Mike Magee. Di Vaio’s goal came in the 64th minute off of an assist from team captain Davy Arnaud. The shot finally ended the Impact’s goalless streak of 330 minutes. Their late season struggles to find the scoreboard are reflected in the standings, as Montreal had a six game losing streak heading into Saturday’s showdown. This problem has plagued the Impact in both of its seasons in the MLS, with their streak matching the club record, a figure that was set over the final six games of their inaugural season in 2012.
Both squads’ centre forwards had a profound impact on the flow of the game, albeit in different ways. Conor Casey of the Union established a physical presence early in the match by using his large frame to overpower Montreal’s backline. Di Vaio on the other hand was used as a target man and oftentimes looked to start attacks by receiving the ball in the middle third. Both were also the recipients of their teams’ yellow cards. Casey received his for jawing with the referee, while Di Vaio launched into Union Goalkeeper Zac MacMath following an alleged handball in the penalty box that wasn’t called.
Both teams played with urgency throughout the 90 minutes of play, which resulted in multiple tussles. Philadelphia manager John Hackworth attributed this to what was at stake for both squads.
“This was a playoff game without the playoffs,” Hackworth told Canadian Press. “Both of us had to win. We did a good job in the first half, but we couldn’t finish it off.”
The first 45 minutes were indeed controlled by the visitors as the Brazilian duo of Kleberson and Fabinho joined together to put the Union ahead with deft passing and clinical finishing. However the hosts took over in the second half as Impact head coach Marco Schällibaum implored his squad to do better.
“At half time, we discussed how we felt that we wanted to win, but wanting wasn’t enough,” Schällibaum said. “I told the guys that I believe in them. After such a difficult week and some tough results, it’s a great moment, and I’m very proud of the guys.”
Defensively, the Impact were led by former A.C. Milan star and living legend, Alessandro Nesta. The stalwart centre-back, now 37, exhibited the same dominance he showed throughout the length of his storied career. Prior to the match, Nesta was thanked by the franchise for his service to the club and the sport as a whole, as he will hang up his boots following the culmination of the regular season. Unfortunately, Saturday’s match may have been Nesta’s last as he went down clutching his leg following a challenge. A stretcher was brought onto the field but he refused to be carted off and instead limped off on his own power, to the sound of a standing ovation from the raucous and emotional crowd.
The Impact now head to Toronto for the final game of the regular season on Oct. 26. Despite sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference, the game is a must-win as five teams are within three points of each other in the battle for playoff contention.