Montreal 3, Vancouver 1
BY RANDY PHILLIPS
MONTREAL — After a season that was an emotional roller-coaster ride from the start and which threatened to derail at any time, winning could not have been sweeter for the Montreal Impact.
Bolstered by a three-goal outburst in the first half and dominating throughout, the Impact rolled over the defending champion Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 on Saturday in the decisive game of the United Soccer Leagues First Division’s two-game, aggregate-goal final series before a sellout crowd of 13,034 at Saputo Stadium.
Montreal won the league’s first all-Canadian final by a whopping 6-3 on aggregate, capturing its third league crown in franchise history and the first since 2004. The Impact also won in 1994, the second year of the franchise.
“This definitely is the sweetest,” said team captain Mauro Biello, at age 36 the longest serving member on the team dating back to its inaugural season in 1993 and who entered Saturday’s game with 10 minutes left in regulation time. “They (the crowd) sent me on the field with a standing ovation. It was great.
“At this point in my career to be able to lift that championship cup again was unbelievable,” said Biello, who may have played for the last time in an Impact uniform with the possibility of retirement on the horizon.
Midfielders Tony Donatelli and Joey Gjertsen and forward Roberto Brown, who was named MVP of the series, scored goals in a 12-minute span in the first half, building on a 3-2 lead from a victory in the series’ first game in Vancouver a week earlier.
Donatelli scored his third of the playoffs on a penalty kick in the 30th minute after Shaun Pejic had hauled down Brown deep inside the penalty area as he tried to chase down a free ball.
Referee Dave Gantar had no choice but to award a PK on the play, but he also slapped Pejic with a red card for “serious foul play” which left the Whitecaps a man short for the second time in the series.
Caps midfielder and team captain Martin Nash was banished early in the second half of the first game in Vancouver and missed Saturday’s match to serve an automatic one-game suspension because of it.
Players and coaches on both sides agreed the foul was serious enough to result in a PK opportunity, but everyone believed the ejection was excessive, especially Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson, who said it was extremely difficult to be competitive when having to play with only 10 men for nearly 80 minutes over two critical games.
“Our defender was first on the ball and he takes the ball away,” Thordarson said. “A penalty, yes, maybe, but a red card I think that was ridiculous.”
Thordarson later added that “the better team won.”
Gjertsen added his first of the playoffs in the 40th minute, converting a perfect cross from the right-wing by Brown to beat Caps ’keeper from point-blank range.
Brown notched his second of the series two minutes later after being set up nicely by forward linemate Peter Byers and for all intents this one was over.
Vancouver finally got on the scoreboard in the 44th when midfielder Ansu Toure headed a shot past goalkeeper Matt Jordan after taking a pass from the opposite side from forward Marlon James.
Oddly, the Impact’s three-goal lead on aggregate at halftime was precisely the same position the club was in when en route to an infamous debacle in Mexico in March, when it gave up four goals in the second half to Santos Laguna to lose 5-4 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
“The feeling to win this here is great,” said Brown. “To be here with the fans who supported us the whole year even after we were knocked out by Santos Laguna and after not having a good performance at the beginning of the season . . . they still kept on supporting us, giving us the feeling we needed.
“And we made it,” Brown said with a smile. “At the end of the season, we got the result in the playoffs and it was because of them. They believed in us and because of that we believed in ourselves and now we’re champions.”
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