Impact 1, Whitecaps 0
BY RANDY PHILLIPS
With a spot in the playoffs guaranteed, the final games of regular season in the United Soccer Leagues First Division for the Impact is about improving its position in the standings and sustaining momentum.
The Impact got full marks toward both with a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps before a paid attendance of 11,867 at Saputo Stadium last night.
Forward Peter Byers, a second half substitution, beat ‘Caps goalkeeper Jay Nolly in the 90th minute as the Impact extended a season unbeaten streak to six games (5-0-1) by sweeping the three-game season series against the only other Canadian team in the USL D1.
The victory improved the club’s record to 12-10-6 and moved it back into fifth place in the standings with 42 points, one ahead of the idle Rochester Rhinos.
Byers replaced Eduardo Sebrango at halftime after the Cuban-born Canadian striker suffered a fractured right wrist after taking a tumble in the first half. Byers bagged his third of the season after missing on a pair of opportunities earlier and in particular in the 81st when referee Silvio Petrescu disallowed a goal by calling a foul on a Vancouver defender the second Byers got his shot away as he was being pulled by his jersey from behind.
Petrescu, booed by the crowd after that call, arguably also could have whistled for penalty kick in favour of Montreal minutes after when Byers was tackled inside the penalty area after being mauled by Nolly as he tried to gain control of a loose ball.
“I was happy to come in and score the winning goal for my team tonight,” said Byers. “Actually I scored two goals, but the referee took one away from me tonight. That was unlucky for me.
“The referee did what he had to do, but I was very unhappy with that,” Byers said. “But I played my game and scored another one.”
Head coach Marc Dos Santos preferred to give Petrescu the benefit of the doubt on the first no-call, at least until he saw the video replay. But he had nothing but praise for his club.
“This win is extremely important for the team,” said Dos Santos. ‘We were a big team tonight again, but the most important thing is where the club is going. More and more, every day, we’re showing that something is being built up.”
The Impact knew it was playoff bound for the eighth consecutive year well before the game with Miami FC losing 2-1 to Rochester in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday night. That result also left five teams, including the Charleston Battery, Rochester and Vancouver separated by 10 points from fourth place through seventh.
Teams second to seventh meet in the quarterfinals while the Commissioner’s Cup regular-season champion earns a bye to the semifinals.
Montreal went into the game three points ahead of the Vancouver, but in the end nothing good came for the ‘Caps who oddly, on the ninth day of the ninth month of ‘09 came in with 9-9-9 record.
Dos Santos said the emphasis would be on finishing the regular season strong and taking that momentum into the playoffs and it was precisely what the team delivered last night.
“We want to make sure we make more points than last year,” he said. “Last year we had 42 points (a 12-12-6 record). We have a chance to do better at this point.”
The news wasn’t all good for the club last night because in addition to the injury to Sebrango, rock-steady defender Nevio Pizzolitto will be forced to sit out the two remaining regular-season games for having picked up his eighth yellow card which Petrescu slapped him with in the 85th minute.
Srdjan Djekanovic got the start in goal with veteran Matt Jordan sidelined with back spasms and made four saves for his fourth shutout and fifth win.
The Impact entertains the Minnesota Thunder Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in the club’s last home game of the regular season. Montreal finishes up on the road against the RailHawks in Cary, South Carolina, Sept. 18.
Playoff tickets on sale Friday: The club earlier yesterday announced tickets for the playoff quarterfinal game to be held between Sept. 23-27 go on sale at 10. a.m. tomorrow.
They’re will be available through Admission (514-790-1245, 1-800-361-4595, or admission.com), as well as at the stadium. Prices also remain the same than during the regular season, starting at $10 for adults and $5 for youth aged 16 years and under.
Dates and times of the quarterfinal games are yet to be determined. Teams will compete in two-leg aggregate goal series with the three winners advancing to semifinals. The regular season champion earns a bye for the semifinal round.
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