Montreal Impact substitute forward Johan Venegas completed the 2-1 comeback victory in the 77th minute in the first leg of the Major League Soccer (MLS) Eastern Conference Semifinals. The speedy Costa Rican international sent the Columbus Crew SC packing with a defeat on Sunday night at the Stade Saputo.
All three goals in the game began from defensive errors. However, both clubs kept on coming back and both goalies were on their “A game” as they combined for seven saves. It seemed the match was going to end in a 1-1 draw. Until the Crew’s captain Michael Parkhurst committed the final defensive error near the midfield.
Parkhurst had received a pass from teammate Will Trapp from the left hand side. Trapp was not in any rush when he delivered the low short range pass to the captain. Even after Parkhurst controlled the ball he still had some time to make a decision or set up for a long range pass. However, instead he took a poor touch and Venegas speed closed down his space quickly.
The Costa Rican international was all over Parkhurst. Until the captain lost his balance and fell down to the ground, leaving a wide open path to the goal. Venegas wasted no time and turned on the jets as he went flying down the field with the ball.
He was running with no pressure until Columbus defender Gastón Sauro caught up to him as he was about to enter the penalty box. However, Sauro was not able to completely commit to Venegas because Didier Drogba came running down the right hand side and was in a perfect place to score.
Sauro was caught in “no man’s land,” due to Drogba’s run. The Costa Rican international used that to his advantage, he took two more strides and then fired a low shot to the bottom right hand corner to give Montreal the 2-1 lead.
Venegas ran to the sidelines screaming with joy. However, his celebration was not able to be heard since the 17,655 fans inside the Stade Saputo erupted drowning out everything within the vicinity.
"I am extremely pleased with our performance after playing three tough games in a week and we were able to find a way to win," Impact head coach Mauro Biello said after the 2-1 comeback victory. "Now, they have to beat us there and we’ll go to Columbus ready for that game. We could have easily struggled after they scored the first goal, but we were able to lift our game and improve as the match went on."
In the first half both squads started the game flat. However, as the game carried on both the Crew’s and Impact’s offense began to produce chances. The two clubs combined for nine shots in the first 45 minutes. The Crew fired five of their six shots in the first half.
A poor clearance from Drogba in the box with his head, however, set up Columbus’s Federico Higuain with a close range open shot. The Argentinean midfielder did not waste the opportunity and gave the Crew the 1-0 lead at the 33rd minute. Columbus was off to the perfect start on the road, they had the 1-0 lead but more importantly they earned the important road goal.
A few minutes later the Impact came soaring back. Montreal midfielder Marco Donadel delivered a curling ball with pace into the heart of the box from a corner kick. His cross was heading towards an area that had five Crew defenders and just one Impact player. The play appeared to be an easy clearance for Columbus.
However, the Columbus defense lost their focus. In result, Montreal’s captain Patrice Bernier made it 1-1 at the 37th minute with a header, while dealing with minimal defensive pressure.
In the second half the Impact took over the game. It was clear that the Crew were attempting to leave Montreal with a 1-1 score line. Their offense in the second half only produced one shot, compared to the Impacts eight. But Columbus’s goalie Steve Clark was up for the challenge as he made five saves.
The effort of Clark went to waste, however, when Venegas entered the match in the 73rd minute. Four minutes later the Costa Rican international delivered the Impact their second postseason victory in their franchises history after capitalizing on a defensive error.
“Soccer is a game of mistakes and a game where every action makes a difference. So no matter how small that action is, it can have an effect on the game,” Columbus’s Sporting Director and head coach Greg Berhalter said. “We came out with the right intentions, we wanted to put Montreal on their heels, we wanted to play offensive soccer and we wanted to dominate the game.”
The Crew did not dominate the game and now the Impact is just 90 minutes away for qualifying to their first Eastern Conference Finals. All Montreal needs to do is not lose at MAPFIRE Stadium on Sunday. A draw or a victory will get them through to the next round.
The Crew simply has to win at home. Any other result will end their postseason run and start their vacation earlier than planned.