A spectacular goal by Ignacio Piatti and a sterling rearguard effort by the Montreal Impact defense led the visiting Montreal Impact to a 3-2 win over one of their Canadian rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, in front of a sold-out crowd at B.C. Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Impact avenged their 2015 Voyageur Cup final loss to the Whitecaps by relying on the individual brilliance of Piatti and the leadership and strong play of center back Laurent Ciman. It was a disappointing loss for the hosts especially with some new faces in the Starting XI, and manager Carl Robinson will hope his team will continue to gel and improve over the course of the season like they did last year.
The Ignacio Piatti Show
While star forward Didier Drogba, who was out for this opening day fixture with an inflamed knee, garnered the majority of the Montreal Impact's media attention for his eleven goals in eleven regular season games last year. Many forget though that midfielder Ignacio Piatti finished the 2015 regular season with nine goals and eight assists. Today was a reminder that the Impact can still be a potent team offensively even without Drogba. Piatti scored two goals and assisted on the second of the Impact's three goals, and he constantly terrorized the normally-solid Whitecaps backline.
Piatti's goal in the 19th minute, which gave the Impact a 1-0 lead, was the goal of the game and a strong candidate for MLS Goal of the Week. After a neat one-two with former Chicago Fire midfielder Harry Shipp at the top of the box, Piatti did the rest. He nutmegged Whitecaps midfielder Christian Bolanos, skipped past right back Fraser Aird like he wasn't even there, and calmly dodged a sliding Kendall Waston before rifling the ball past goalkeeper David Ousted. It was a world-class goal, and the TSN commentators were floored at the quality of Piatti's slaloming run and finish.
Piatti would then assist forward Dominic Oduro on the Impact's second goal to give the team a shock 2-0 lead in the 42nd minute. He gathered the ball at the halfway line before playing an outside-of-the-foot through-ball to Oduro. Whitecaps center back Waston stayed stride-for-stride with Oduro, and as both approached the 'Caps 18-yard box, Ousted ran off his line to clear the ball out of danger. Yet instead of slamming the ball to safety, Ousted let the ball run past him, thinking that Waston would clear it out of danger first. In the end neither player touched the ball, and Oduro ran past both and passed the ball into an empty net, the easiest goal he will score all season.
After the 'Caps got back into the game with a Jordan Harvey goal just before halftime, it looked like they would eventually equalize. Manager Robinson brought on former FC Dallas forward Blas Perez and mercurial winger Kekuta Manneh, shifting from a 4-2-3-1 to a more offensive, 4-1-2-3 formation.
Just when it looked like the 'Caps would be destined to tie the game, the Impact, led by Piatti and the outstanding Ciman, slowed down the tempo and began to string together long sequences of passes, killing off the Whitecaps' momentum. The raucous home crowd began to grow silent, and as the 'Caps threw men forward to find that elusive second goal, it left them exposed to potential counterattacks.
In the 88th minute, the inevitable finally happened. After Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush, who made an assortment of brilliant saves to keep the Impact up 2-1, caught a Pedro Morales cross, he quickly threw the ball to a streaking Oduro. Oduro cheekily lobbed the ball over center back Tim Parker and started a two-on-one fast break. He astutely crossed the ball to a sprinting Piatti, who took the ball in-stride, used a stutter-step to evade the defending Morales, and then clinically fired the ball from the edge of the six yard box into Ousted's bottom left corner.
As he celebrated with his Impact teammates, scores of 'Caps fans beganing to the exits. Even though Waston headed in a Bolanos corner to cut the deficit to one, it was too little, too late, and his 93rd-minute goal was only a small consolation prize for the frustrated players and fans in attendance.
Men of the Match
Montreal Impact man of the match:
Midfielder Ignacio Piatti. Two goals and an assist to Oduro for the team's second goal, it was mission accomplished for the Argentine. He controlled the ball, won numerous fouls all over the pitch and was the architect of every Impact offensive salvo. Piatti also showed that the team can rely on him and Oduro to carry the scoring burden with Drogba out.
No wonder the Impact turned down a $5 million transfer fee for Piatti during the offseason. With another display like this, he will no doubt be the Team MVP and maybe even league MVP for 2016.
Vancouver Whitecaps man of the match:
Forward Octavio Rivero. Did everything humanly possible to score a goal; had a rasping shot in the 20th minute that came back off the crossbar; had a 67th minute header that was destined for the back of the net brilliantly palmed away by Impact goalkeeper Bush. He did well to link up with teammates even when he was double-teamed and was forced to create his own scoring chances for long stretches of the game.
On the defensive end, he fended off the pugnacious Ciman and bruising center back Victor Cabrera to keep possession long enough for his teammates to join in on the attack. While he didn't score a goal, it was an encouraging performance, and he deserves to start for the Whitecaps on a weekly basis.
What's Next for Both Teams
The Impact have their home opener next Saturday, March 12th, against the New York Red Bulls, who were defeated by fellow Canadian side Toronto FC today. The Whitecaps will have to shake off this disappointing loss quickly if they hope to earn a better result next week. The 'Caps will travel to one of the toughest places to play on the road, Sporting Park, to face off against Sporting KC on Saturday, March 12th.