By MIKE DONOVAN
In a game that showcased a contrast of philosophies, the Montreal Impact and their defensive-minded style knocked off the possession-heavy Portland Timbers, 2-1, on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at Jeld-Wen Field.
A Hassoun Camara overhead kick goal in the 30th minute gave the visitors the lead while Felipe Martins doubled the gap half an hour later after he found himself unmarked in front of Donovan Ricketts. A late Ryan Johnson goal made the final ten minutes interesting, but in the end, the Impact won their second straight road match to start the season, already matching their 2012 total for road wins.
The Timbers knew exactly what to expect from the Impact in the week leading up to the match, but were unable to do enough to overcome the amount of constant harassment in the final third by the Canadian side. Montreal’s pack-it-in style relied on its ability to punish their opponent when they make mistakes and that came as no surprise to Timbers head coach Caleb Porter.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, everything we thought they’d do, they did,” Porter said after the match. “We knew they would hit us on counterattacks, we knew they would hit us on set pieces. It was disappointing that we let them hurt us twice in moments we prepared for all week.”
The contrast of styles led to the Timbers dominating the statsheet in certain areas such as possession (63% to 37%) and shots (19 to 9), but Portland seemed to have trouble breaking down the middle of the Impact’s defensive unit and getting meaningful shots on target.
While Ryan Johnson did force a nice save from Perkins in the first half and did score late, there seemed to be few goal scoring opportunities for the Timbers in the match. Montreal’s Italian centerback pair of Matteo Ferrari and Alessandro Nesta were hardly ever out-of-position and turned back multiple Timbers shots with timely blocks.
“Their back-line is very organized, very comfortable sitting back and Nesta and Ferrari do a great job of not letting you get behind them,” said Porter, who is still searching for his first win as a MLS coach. “They get you right in that distance from goal where if you try to pull the trigger they’ll step and block it. But they don’t open themselves up for us to slip a ball in behind you.”
In addition to the centerback combo, Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier spent the majority of the game marking Timbers Designated Player Diego Valeri and, for the most part, was able to win the matchup and prevent Valeri from duplicating his impressive MLS debut six days ago against the New York Red Bulls. Despite having six shots, Valeri seemed to wear down from the constant badgering from Bernier.
After the match, Timbers Captain Will Johnson was highly complementary of his fellow Canadian’s performance.
“Patrice is a good player. Defensively he’s just a smart guy, you wouldn’t expect anything less,” Will Johnson said.
Bernier also had a hand in the Impact’s second goal, nicely playing Andres Romero past the right side of the Timbers defense. Romero, who just entered the game as a substitute, calmly found a streakking Felipe Martins, who finished perfectly from six yards out.
Despite the lack of possession, Montreal head coach Marco Schallibaum felt his side was the better of the two Saturday night.
“We didn’t come in here and steal three points,” said the Swiss manager. “It was a difficult and tight game, but we responded well. ”
Porter had a different take on the match.
“We were good enough today to win that game, if we dont keep those critical mistakes,” Porter said. “It’s disappointing to dominate like we did and not get the result.”
Looking ahead, the Timbers might need to have a shakeup on a back-line that has conceded five goals in two games. On both Montreal goals, the Impact had multiple unmarked players.
The centerback pairing of Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Mikael Silvestre also left a few gaping holes on quick throw-ins and counterattacks in the first half, but a diving Ricketts save on a Marco Di Vaio header prevented the Italian from putting his club ahead.
“Defensively, we’re not giving up a ton of shots, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Porter said.
Portland will now travel on the road for the first time in the Caleb Porter era with a matchup against the rival Seattle Sounders.
The Impact will return to Canada with a 2-0 record as they prepare for their home debut against Canadian rival Toronto FC.