The Montreal Impact proved that their late season flourish was no fluke, defeating the third-seeded Austin Aztex at Saputo Stadium 2-0 Tuesday night. In Blaine, Minnesota the NSC Minnesota Stars and Carolina RailHawks played to a scoreless draw. All four teams will be involved in the second leg of USSF D2 playoff action on Saturday night, with Montreal visiting House Park in Austin while the NSC Minnesota Stars travel to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.
Ali Gerba Leads Montreal to Victory
Forward Ali Gerba, as he has been so often during the latter stretch of the 2010 season, was the difference-maker in the first leg of the Montreal-Austin playoff series. Gerba’s brace gave the Impact a 2-0 win over the Aztex before almost 8,000 fans in Saputo Stadium Wednesday night.
The Austin Aztex had some early chances, including an early header by forward Maxwell Griffin on a play that was judged offsides. English forward Eddie Johnson, who missed the last two and half games due ro injury, was back in the Aztex starting lineup and rocketed a volleyed shot that missed the Montreal goal. That shot seemed to wake up the Impact’s attack.
Cuban veteran Eduardo Sebrango challenged the Aztex in the 32nd minute, forcing a quality save from Aztex’ goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo. But six minutes later, Gallardo could do nothing to stop Gerba. The Canadian international headed a Phillipe Billy free kick past Gallardo to give Montreal a 1-0 lead that they would take into halftime.
Gerba doubled the lead in the 78th minute. Montreal Coach Marc Dos Santos had just subbed midfielder Rocco Placentino into the match, and Placentino responded with a long ball that found Gerba, whose left-footed shot beat Gallardo. Montreal goalkeeper Matt Jordan recorded his tenth playoff win for the Impact with the clean sheet.
“The effort from everyone was excellent today,” said coach Marc Dos Santos. “A 2-0 victory was a fair result in my opinion. They [Austin] put a little more pressure in the second half, but they were not able to create scoring chances against us. Defensively, we offered up another excellent performance. We now have to prepare for the next game and we must be willing to do whatever it takes to win the second leg. Nothing is won yet.”
Montreal outshot the Aztex 14-6. The second leg of the series will be played at Austin’s House Park on Saturday evening. Austin Coach Adrian Heath will have to snap the Aztex out of their late season funk, and restore the team’s dynamic attack to give the Aztex a chance of continuing in the 2010 USSF D2 playoffs.
Carolina RailHawks 0-0 NSC Minnesota Stars
The expansion NSC Minnesota Stars played their first playoff game in team history Wednesday in Blaine, Minnesota, holding the USSF D2’s second highest scoring club, the Carolina RailHawks, to a 0-0 draw. Goalkeepers Eric Reed of the RailHawks and Stars’ veteran Joe Warren recorded the clean sheets.
Despite the scoreless ending, the match was not without offense. The Stars’ Scott Lorenz and Daniel Wasson both had opportunities, as did the RailHawks’ Gregory Richardson in the 39th minute and midfielder Matt Watson, whose 75th minute shot went over the Stars’ crossbar. The RailHawks nearly got the win with seconds remaining, as a Minnesota foul resulted in a long, diagonal free kick from the left side of the field that found Carolina defender Brad Rusin. Rusin chested the ball to the far post, but his effort was just wide.
Both defenses played intelligent, efficient soccer. Passing lanes were constantly blocked, allowing little access to the opponent’s goal. The shot total was for the match was nearly even, with NSC Minnesota tallying eight shots to Carolina’s seven, while NSC Minnesota’s five corner kicks were one more than the RailHawks were able to produce.
Both Coach Manny Lagos of the Stars’ and RailHawks gaffter Martin Rennie were satisfied with the result. Lagos was quoted on Inside Minnesota Soccer as saying that ““Obviously it would be nice to have a couple of goals going into this road trip. But for real soccer fans you have to love this playoff series. It’s halftime! How many times do you have a game where it’s halftime and you have to fly half way across the country to finish the second half. It adds a lot of intrigue and I think it’s really great. We have to recover, they have to recover and both teams have to travel to Raleigh (NC) to play again Saturday night.” Rennie added that “”We started the game a little slow, but we improved as the first half went on and I think we played well in the second half and created quite a few good chances, We generally defended well and played well, so now the game is open for the taking at home and we’re looking forward to that.”
The second leg of the series will be played at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina Saturday at 7:00 pm ET.
Notes: Thursday nights Vancouver-Portland game will be televised on Fox Sports Northwest (DirecTV Channel 687, 426 on Dish), at 9:30 pm CT. During the Montreal-Austin match, I heard the commentators refer say several times that the Aztex’ Eddie Johnson will be playing for the Portland Timbers in their inaugural MLS season in 2011, but haven’t seen any confirmation of that. Before last night’s kickoff in Minnesota, team awards were awarded to the Stars’, including recognition of defender Andres Arango as the Stars’ 2010 Player of the Year. For more on the recognition awarded to the Stars’ players, see IMS
Montreal Starting Lineup: Jordan, Pizzolitto, Braz. Billy, Aaboubou, Testo, Donatelli, Ribeiro, DiLorenzo, Sebrango, Gerba Subs Used; LeGall, Placentino, Agourram, Terminesi, Leduc
Austin Starting Lineup: Gallardo, Sakuda, Needham, L. Griffin, Bernard, L.Watson, Olum, Hemming, J. Watson, Johnson, M. Griffin Subs Used: Brill, Fuller, Yoshitake
NSC Minnesota Starting Lineup: Joe Warren, Lorenz, Clements, Arango, Altman, Wasson, Takada, Rodriguez, Del Do, Allen, Bracalello Subs Used: Gotsmanov, Cvilikas, Tarley, Hlavaty
Carolina Starting LineupL Reed, Woolard, Rusin, McKenney, Low, Watson, Paladini, Gardner, Davidson, Richardson, Heinemann Subs Used: Lowery, Franks, Barbara, Russell