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Drilling down on: at Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1

Carlos Valdes, Lionard Pajoy, Sheanon Williams

Philadelphia Union’s Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams and Lionard Pajoy, from right, celebrate after Valdes’ goal in the second half of an MLS soccer match against the Montreal Impact, Saturday, July 14, 2012, in Chester, Pa. Philadelphia won 2-1. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)


Man of the Match: None of the above, which means the game-winning goal scorer gets the honor. Carlos Valdes took advantage of some poor Montreal defending on a late throw-in to record his first goal of the year, giving Philadelphia three points that continue the club’s climb into playoff contention.

In truth, there were no stand out performers. Fireworks at the end were sparked by errors more than talent, giving an exciting finish to a mostly forgettable match.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • This is the second game in a row where Montreal has come out flat, though there may be an unlikely cause. Maybe this is the new, Marco Di Vaio-dependent Montreal? One that’s going to rely on their new star to the exclusion of any other form of attack.
  • It certainly seemed that way throughout most of this one. Jesse Marsch played a very conservative 4-4-1-1 that relied on Felipe to connect with Di Vaio.
  • That wasn’t nearly enough, and against a Philadelphia team that could get very little going without Michael Farfan (out with a groin injury), the approach was far too conservative. I don’t know if Marsch came in with special reverence for the Union’s post-Nowak revival, but there was no reason right midfielder Davy Arnaud needed to be playing on the same level as Patrice Bernier and Collen Warner.
  • So with Philly lacking their creator and Montreal playing on their heals, the first half might as well not have existed. The teams combined for two shots on goal, a number that exaggerated their ambition.
  • The second half was different from its kickoff. Montreal did a good job of playing directly to Di Vaio (who had two early half-chances), while Philadelphia exploited the left side of the Impact defense as a consistent route into attack:

    • Montreal’s plan nearly bore fruit midway through the second when a nice 15-yard chip from Felipe saw Di Vaio beat Amobi Okugo (who, by in large, had yet another strong game). Bringing down the ball onto his left foot, Di Vaio appeared to have beaten Zac MacMath low only to see the Philly `keeper get his right hand to the shot, deflecting the ball just wide of the right post.
    • On the other end, Donovan Ricketts had to pull off similar heroics when a Sheanon Williams cross met a leaping Jack McIneney, the young attacker’s header pushed wide after some quick reflexes from Ricketts.
  • Philly controlled the early part of the second while Montreal got a grip on the match in the middle. By the final 15 minutes, the teams looked on course for a scoreless draw before Hackworth’s three subs combined for a moment of magic.
  • Or perhaps it was serendipity, because Philly needed a little fortune to score the opener. Antoine Hoppenot made it happen, beating three defenders (thanks to a wall pass to Gabriel Gómez) before chipping a ball into the six as he ran out of room at the line. Montreal seemed pause and to stare at a ball - as if it were going in slow motion - before Lionard Pajoy poked it past Ricketts, opening the scoring in the 82nd minute.
  • Things seemed pretty hopeless for Montreal, who had failed to consistently threaten MacMath. As it turned out, they wouldn’t need to threaten before equalize, with a misplayed corner kick going into net, evening the score in the 89th minute.
  • Patrice Bernier swung a ball in near-post. When Zac MacMath didn’t claim it, the ball went off of Keon Daniel (colliding with MacMath and a teammate) and went in for the equalizer.
  • Montreal must have felt guilty, because they returned the favor two minutes later. A long throw from Williams was floated to Valdes at the edge of the six, even with the right post. A poor first touch toward the line saw Montreal fail to react, allowing Valdes to put the winner past Ricketts.
  • The game could have just as easily finished 0-0 (and been a fair result), but Philadelphia won the match’s ten final, chaotic minutes, giving the home team full points.
  • It wasn’t, however, a performance Philly could take much from. What they learned: They are a vastly less potent team without Michael Farfan, one that can’t take advantage of a visiting team having a bad night. Ultimately, yes, they did win, but they needed a strange goal to pull it out.
  • For Montreal, there’s a bigger problem: The team has turned it off since acquiring Di Vaio. Jesse Marsch sent out a team that was overly reliant on their new star. At one point, Di Vaio dropped back, played to Felipe, who turned and gave the ball away while trying to hit a streaking Arnaud, who had too far to got to get into the play. That failed movement sums up Marsch’s post-Di Vaio approach.
  • Instead of getting out of his way, the Impact need to start augmenting Di Vaio. Now scoreless in 351 minutes (for a team that hasn’t scored in open play for 221 minutes), Di Vaio needs help.