On a day when new Canadian national team boss Octavio Zambrano announced his first roster selection, the Impact and Whitecaps put on a goal fest for the Ecuadorian in Montreal.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg of the Canadian Championship semifinal with Vancouver, Montreal blew the Whitecaps away with three goals in 18 first half minutes and held off a second-half fightback to reach its first final in three years.
Ignacio Piatti converted twice from the penalty spot before fellow creative Blerim Dzemaili looked to have put the two-game, total-goal series out of Vancouver’s reach. Vancouver rallied in the second half after the introduction of 16-year-old phenom Alphonso Davies, but Montreal were deserving recipients of the final 5-4 decision.
The goals started flowing in the 19th minute, when Dzemaili split the visiting defense to find academy product Anthony Jackson-Hamel. The local boy won the race with Spencer Ritchie, tipping the ball past the Vancouver goalkeeper, who felt he had no choice but to take away the striker’s legs. Piatti converted the penalty to level the tie on aggregate
The North Star bell (which is rung for every Impact goal) had barely stopped ringing when Piatti himself was the victim in the Vancouver penalty box. A subtle training ground freekick routine spearheaded by veteran defender Laurent Ciman deceived the Whitecaps backline to leave Piatti in front of goal. Fellow Argentinian Mauro Rosales hauled him down and the referee pointed to the spot for a second time in seven minutes. Piatti made no mistake for his eight goal of the season.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) May 31, 2017
Tuesday’s matchup at Saputo Stadium appeared to be a game too far for Vancouver, who lost 1-0 at home to DC United on Saturday and were playing its fourth game in 11 days. With no MLS responsibilities last weekend, Montreal hadn’t played since last Tuesday and were noticeably quicker to the ball from the whistle. The home side dominated possession and had 10 shots on target to the Whitecaps two.
In the 38th minute, Macedonian native Dzemaili, on loan from Italian club Bologna, swept in from the edge of the area to make it 4-2 on aggregate.
At halftime, Carl Robinson sent on the cavalry in the form of Davies, who has been scouted by clubs across Europe, including Manchester United. It didn’t take the 16-year-old long to make his presence felt, turning on Montreal captain Patrice Bernier and delivering a low left-foot finish.
However, Canadian Jackson-Hamel provided an immediate response to the threat to his team’s lead, taking down a cross from captain Bernier on his chest and volleying emphatically past Ritchie.
American forward Kyle Greig nodded home for the visitors in the 76th minute to set up a grand-stand finish. If Vancouver has managed to tie the series on aggregate, away goals (which count double) would have sent them to back-to-back finals.
As it was, the Impact held on for a one-goal victory which sent them to their first Canadian Championship final since 2015. The second semifinal goes Wednesday at BMO Field, where hosts Toronto FC will seek to overturn a 2-1 deficit against the Ottawa Fury of the second-tier USL.
The Canadian Championship winner is awarded the Voyageurs Cup and the opportunity to quality for the CONCACAF Champions League.
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