Montreal takes championship lead over Vancouver
BURNABY, BC -- A quiet first half in the opening leg of the 2009 USL First Division Championship Series gave way to a thriller in the second half as the Montreal Impact saw their 1-0 road lead at the break turn into goal-fest in the second stanza as four strikes followed a surprising Martin Nash sending-off in a game that finished 3-2 in favor of Montreal, who remain a perfect 5-0-0 in the postseason.
The host Whitecaps came out struggling to find a rhythm in the first half, leading to several opportunities for Montreal, who was finding it difficult to find the back of the net despite their chances.
But the Impact finally broke through a minute later in the 45th minute. Defender Stephen deRoux had come up the flank and played the ball into the area from the edge of the box. Brown got the back of his head on the ball, but the slight header deflected severely off of Shaun Pejic and into the back of the net for an own goal.
Five minutes into the second half, bad became worse for Vancouver as Martin Nash got up from being tripped and immediately lunged into a tackle on Roberto Brown that was followed with a red card, sending him off the pitch for the remainder of the series.
However, just a few minutes later, the USL-1 Rookie of the Year Marcus Haber proved his worth of the honor with a brilliant individual effort to level the match. He made a lengthy run up the middle of the pitch, cutting back toward the center inside the box and firing the shot into the far back corner of the net in the face of a Montreal defender.
But in the 63rd, Peter Byers sliced through the Vancouver defense for the go-ahead goal. A ball forward found Byers behind the defense, but kept onside by the back on the far side. The speedy striker drove to the endline before cutting past one defender and slipping the ball by Jay Nolly from a narrow angle as the second defender tried to cut him off.
But the game that was lackluster first half fully converted into a thriller two minutes later when the other Rookie of the Year candidate from the Whitecaps, Wes Knight, played a key role on a restart. His long throw deep into the Montreal half was sent into the area only to see it cleared right back to him. His subsequent cross found a rising Marlon James eight yards from goal for a header into the back of the net for their second equalizer a man down.
In the 72nd minute Nolly came up big on a play that began with a Brown header from 10 yards that went just over the diving keeper and off the crossbar. The ricochet bounced down in front of goal allowing Eduardo Sebrango to head a second effort toward goal that the keeper was able to get off the ground to lunge and parry off the line as he rolled into the side netting. The rebound fell to Brown, who was unable to pull the ball back into the frame, sending it just wide.
Sebrango scored against his former side in the 88th minute with a fantastic follow-up. The play started with a blazing shot from Rocco Placentino that Nolly popped straight up in the air. This time Sebrango came crashing in with a header as the keeper was trying to get off the ground, knocking it in as he barreled over the line.
The aggregate score USL-1 Championship Series finishes next Saturday in Montreal at 2:30 pm ET live on Fox Soccer Channel.