Drilling down on: at Montreal 3, D.C. United 0

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Man of the Match: Both of Montreal’s holding midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 were impressive Saturday on offense and defense. Patrice Bernier was more productive, assisting on the first goal (his eighth this year), converting the second-half penalty kick and bursting through the defense for a deflected goal in stoppage time. He continues to be one of Major League Soccer’s unsung heroes of 2012.

Packaged for take-away:

  • This one is huge in the standings as Montreal climbs within a point of D.C. United for the Eastern Conference’s fifth and final playoff spot. United does, however, have three games in hand on Montreal.
  • D.C. United came into this one hoping effectively to run out the shot clock, to play slow, safe and defensively and perhaps sneak away with a point and maintain the margin over Montreal. For a little while, it looked like it may work. With a four-point lead and three games in hand, D.C. United could certainly have done with a tie – especially considering the heat and United’s absurdly packed slate of five matches in 14 days.
  • Offensively, this one always looked like a stinker for DCU. Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Branko Boskovic, arguably the visitors’ top three attackers, were left on the bench for the warm afternoon at Stade Saputo.
  • Ben Olsen made four lineup changes, not including the relocation of Andy Najar, who shifted back to his right midfield spot after one (pretty darn successful) start at right back.
  • Alessandro Nesta was back in the Impact’s lineup following a brief injury absence. He certainly won’t win many foot races – but my word, he doesn’t have to. His instincts and positioning are so enjoyable to watch.
  • Is Nesta and Matteo Ferrari the first all-Italian central defensive combo in MLS history? Probably, but that deserves further research before any such definitive declaration.
  • United’s midfield was in control for 20 minutes, patient and comfortably moving possession and frustrating the Impact, even if the visitors weren’t creating any real chances. They just needed to limit any mistakes in the back – which they did for those 20 minutes.
  • Impact striker Marco Di Vaio may not live offside, but that man sure keeps a summer home there. Then again …It does work occasionally, which is why some strikers operate this way.
  • United was managing the match beautifully, doing precisely as they should before the Italian found a gap, brilliantly working the channel between center back Brandon McDonald and right back Chris Korb. The goal wasn’t on either of them, however; Left back Mike Chabala, the defender furthest from the action, kept Di Vaio onside as he moved in with plenty of time to line up a quality finish.
  • From there, the home team was more content to play at that same, languid pace – and it suited the Impact. Content to move the ball around the back deliberately rather than hurrying something forward to Di Vaio (who was probably offside anyway), the Impact gained control in midfield and asked DCU to pursue for a little while. That’s not what United came to Canada to do, so the Impact ran the show from there.
  • We did see a little more of the Najar at right back; After Montreal’s second goal, Korb came off, Najar went to right back while Boskovic attempted to add some push in DC United’s midfield.
  • By the 61st minute, Pontius and De Rosario were on as Olsen and his squad chased the game.
  • Felipe has enjoyed some very good afternoons for the Impact. This wasn’t one of them. Somehow, the Impact playmaker couldn’t stick away a low 56th-minute cross from Lamar Neagle, never mind the empty net. He left a run short in the first half or may have had a similar opportunity. Luckily, Collen Warner pulled a little extra offensive weight, getting forward here and there where he ordinarily might not. Warner drew the second half penalty kick, for instance.
  • De Rosario arranged a swell 76th-minute chance, but Troy Perkins got across his goal to the far post to snuff out the best opportunity United had to make things close over the final 10-or-so minutes.