MONTREAL – In its 2019 home opener and seventh game of the regular season, the Montreal Impact defeated first-place Columbus Crew SC 1-0, Saturday afternoon at Stade Saputo. Midfielder Harry Novillo scored the game winning goal in the 55th minute and the Impact has now not conceded a goal in 276 minutes.
“It’s satisfying. The end game is to win,” said Impact head coach Rémi Garde. “The end game is to win. It’s a very big quality. What I liked about my players is that they refused to lose. They resisted against a very good team that does not allow many goals, but that does not score many either.”
Scoreless at the half
In the 14th minute, following a good spell of Montreal possession, centre-back Jukka Raitala sent a long ball to the opposite side for full-back Bacary Sagna, but his left-footed shot flew just over the bar.
Two minutes later, Montreal was knocking on the door again. Orji Okwonkwo’s blocked shot fell into the path of Micheal Azira, who immediately crossed towards the far post for midfielder Saphir Taïder, but his header was directly on goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
Goalkeeper Evan Bush was forced to make a nice save in the 22nd minute, when Hector Jimenez was sent in on the right before passing back for Federico Higuain into the box, but the Argentine’s effort was stopped by Bush.
The Impact retaliated with a quick counter-attack from its own zone, sending Okwonkwo and Novillo upward against just one defender, but the latter’s ensuing shot missed wide.
Home team strikes after the break
Columbus was quick to strike upon returning from the locker rooms, in the 52nd minute, when Robinho cut in from the right flank and unleashed a powerful shot on net, but Bush was able to dive and make a fingertip save to push it out for a corner.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 55th minute. A defensive mistake in Columbus’ half allowed striker Maxi Urruti to recover the ball and run in the 18-yard box. The Argentine turned, looking to his right and laying it off for midfielder Harry Novillo, who took a powerful shot, beating Steffen to his right.
It was the midfielder’s first goal in an Impact uniform, putting an end to Montreal’s sequence without scoring at 236 minutes.
“It’s always nice to score, and the first one is always the hardest,” said Novillo. “That being said, I hope more will follow. What’s important is coming away with the three points. I’m also happy to have played in front of the home crowd. We’ve been waiting for this moment for six weeks now, and this afternoon they really showed enormous support.”
The visitors came inches away from equalizing in the 70th minute, when a scuffle in the box finished with full-back Daniel Lovitz clearing the ball off the goal line, keeping the hosts in the lead.
Homegrown midfielder Clément Bayiha, who came on as a substitute in the 77th minute, came close to putting his team two goals ahead in the game’s final minutes after cutting in from the right side, but his left-footed shot was stopped by Steffen. Then, in stoppage time, Taïder found himself in behind the defense, but Steffen again made a nice save.
Bush, making his 41st consecutive start with the club in the regular season, a club record, finished the day with five saves, recording his third straight clean sheet.
“We’ve been good, especially defensively,” said goalkeeper Evan Bush. “Finally, today we got a goal. Just like us, they haven’t given up many goals either, so we knew it was going to be a tight game. We did what we needed to, and I think the energy from the crowd and our supporters pushed us at the end.”
The Impact will again play three games in quick succession, starting on Saturday, April 20, at 1pm, when Montreal visits the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium (TVA Sports, TSN, 98.5, TSN 690). Rémi Garde’s men will then take on the New England Revolution on Wednesday, April 24 at 7:30pm at Gillette Stadium (TVA Sports, TSN, 98.5, TSN 690), before playing their second home game on Sunday, April 28 at 12:30pm against the Chicago Fire at Stade Saputo (TICKETS – TVA Sports, 98.5, TSN 690).
MTL – GK-Evan Bush; D-Bacary Sagna, Zakaria Diallo, Jukka Raitala, Daniel Lovitz; M-Samuel Piette, Micheal Azira, Saphir Taïder; F-Harry Novillo (Mathieu Choinière 74’), Maximiliano Urruti (Victor Cabrera 89’), Orji Okwonkwo (Clément Bayiha 77’)
Subs not used – Clément Diop, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Shamit Shome, Anthony Jackson-Hamel
CLB – GK-Zach Steffen; D- Héctor Jiménez (Patrick Mullins 86’), Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Waylon Francis; M-Artur, Federico Higuaín, Pedro Santos (Justin Meram 58’), Robinho (Niko Hansen 74’), Wil Trapp; F- Gyasi Zardes
Subs not used – Joe Bendik, Gastón Sauro, Lalas Abubakar, Patrick Mullins, Ricardo Clark
MTL – Novillo (Urruti) 55’