by Neil Morris
With RailHawks’ manager Martin Rennie serving the second of a two-game suspension stemming from the aftermath of the June 26 match between Carolina and Montreal, history largely repeated itself Wednesday night before 11,790 fans at Montreal’s Saputo Stadium. An uneventful, scoreless first half turned into apparent victory for one side before a finale featuring dubious stoppage timekeeping, a handball controversy, and a kettle of angry RailHawks surrounding the referee once the full-time whistle finally blew. The ultimate result was a 1-0 win for Montreal (5-6-5, 20 pts.), snapping the Impact’s five-game winless streak and handing Carolina (5-3-6, 21 pts.) its first road loss of the season.
Playing without suspended midfielders David Testo and Filipe Soares, the Impact were forced to turn to several academy players throughout the match. With each team sporting defensive-minded lineups and formations, the first half was a virtual stalemate. The only threats the RailHawks could muster were several crosses by Josh Gardner which sailed long or, in the 9th minute, barely missed connecting with Sallieu Bundu in the box. For Montreal, Moroccan-born striker Reda Agourram’s fancy footwork and streaking inroads into the RailHawks’ defensive third were the highlight of an otherwise tepid opening stanza.
As sweltering temperatures prompted Montreal manager Marc Dos Santos to shed his suit jacket after intermission, the heat and lack of action on the pitch evidently took its toll on everyone, including one of the Impact’s radio/webcast announcers, who, during a 60th minute moment of delirium, diverted his attention from the match at hand long enough to make the argument that Thierry Henry joining the New York Red Bulls would not only have a bigger impact on American soccer than David Beckham’s entry into MLS, but Henry would also energize a love for soccer among inner-city youth and eventually be responsible for the United States winning the World Cup within the next 20 years.
Perhaps sensing this total breakdown of rational thought, the players picked-up the pace. In the 69th minute, Impact goalkeeper Srdjan Djekanovic stopped a long-distance, on-target shot by Daniel Paladini. Then, in what appeared to be a routine exchange in the RailHawks’ backfield during 74th minute, Rocco Placentino dispossessed the otherwise unflappable Greg Shields. Montreal’s Peter Byers, who entered the game in the 66th minute, took the loose ball and dribbled past the remnants of Carolina’s defense before blasting a volley past RailHawks’ keeper Eric Reed to give Byers his second goal of the season and the Impact a 1-0 lead.
Carolina’s best scoring opportunity came in the 87th minute, when Andriy Budnyy crossed the ball from the right corner to the near post and a waiting Etienne Barbara, whose 4-yard gimme was somehow stopped by Djekanovic. As three minutes of stoppage time wound down, the RailHawks continued to push forward. With the Impact bench screaming for full time, one final foray by Carolina bounced around the penalty area before every Railhawk hand shot directly into the air, which through the pixilation of the online webcast suggested Carolina had scored the equalizer. Instead, the RailHawks were unanimously pleading for a handball call that was not forthcoming. Paladini went ballistic, his protestations prompting his second yellow card in as many minutes and thus a red card suspension for Saturday’s match at Rochester. Once the final whistle did sound, RailHawks swarmed around the head official, undoubtedly asking how he could have omitted such a crucial page from the RailHawks-Montreal game script.
The Railhawks complete their four-game road trip Saturday evening at Rochester before returning to WakeMed Soccer Park on Tuesday, July 27 for a return match against the Rhinos.