USL semifinal heads for Vancouver Sunday
MONTREAL - It's time to start believing the Impact is a team of destiny.
Playing for the fifth time in 10 days and less than 24 hours after returning from CONCACAF Champions League group play in Honduras, the Impact defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 in the opening game of the United Soccer Leagues First Division home-and-away, aggregate-goals semifinal before a paid attendance of 12,002 at Saputo Stadium last night.
Antonio Ribeiro beat Vancouver backup goalkeeper Taylor Baldock in 61st minute from point-blank range after taking a short pass from forward Peter Byers when the ball deflected off the leg of a Whitecaps defender.
The Impact will carry its one-goal advantage in the series into Game 2 at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C., tomorrow. It will be the club's 14th game, including league and Champions League, since Sept. 2 - with a lot of air mileage to boot.
The series winner will face the Puerto Rico Islanders or Rochester Rhinos in a one-game final Oct. 11. The Rhinos blanked the Islanders 2-0 at Rochester in Game 1 of the other semifinal last night.
"It's unbelievable. I don't how to explain it," Mauro Biello said of team's solid play.
The team captain played 69 minutes last night after playing the first 52 in Tegucigalpa, where the Impact beat CD Olimpia 2-1 in Group C action Wednesday.
"We got in (Thursday) at midnight after playing an emotional game and beating a very tough Honduras team. We had to put that game away and focus on the next one and that's what we've been doing all along," he said.
"Every time we've gotten our backs to the wall, we've been able to come up big. Tonight was another test of character."
Ribeiro was the hero for the Impact during a 3-1 win over the Seattle Sounders in the return leg of the two-game, aggregate-goals quarterfinal Sunday, coming off the bench to score in extra time to secure a 4-3 decision on aggregate over the league defending champion.
Used sparingly during the regular season and with only one goal to his credit, he started last night and scored the decisive goal while the Whitecaps were playing a man short after starting 'keeper Jay Nolly was ejected for violent conduct in the 52nd. Nolly was involved in a goal-line collision with Ribeiro, who picked up a yellow card.
Ribeiro fell over Nolly, but the 'keeper grabbed him by the neck, something only a linesman saw and which he relayed to the referee, who pulled out the red card.
"I didn't know if (Nolly) was going to get the ball before I did, or if he was going to drop it once he had it, so I just kept going," Ribeiro said.
"I kind of ran into him and there was a bit of confusion, but he took me by the throat and referee saw that.
"It's very good for the team because he's the starting 'keeper," added Ribeiro, referring the fact that Nolly will be suspended for tomorrow's game.
Montreal, which outshot the Whitecaps 14-8, easily could have been up 2-0 in the first 30 minutes had it not been for golden opportunities missed by Byers.
For head coach John Limniatis, an extra goal or two was all that was missing last night.
"Once we went up a man and scored, I thought we took the pedal off a bit," he said.
"We tried to get as many people forward as possible, but we didn't have enough movement in the offensive third and opportunity to get through.
"The guys didn't take the risks necessary," he said. "Goals make a big difference in a series like this, but we're still forcing them to win in Vancouver."
© Montreal Gazette 2008