To most people not named John Andress, Vancouver's 3-0 win in Montreal earlier today came somewhat of a surprise. After all, the Caps have again this year been a notoriously poor road team, and had been mired in a particularly malodorous five-match winless streak, during which they only managed three goals and were blanked three times.
The surprises in this match came early and often. Martin Rennie again raised some eyebrows with his starting XI, notably electing to go with Tom Heinemann up top, and having Camilo Sanvezzo and Russell Teibert riding the pine. It was a bold gamble by the stoic Scotsman, but one that would pay dividends in both the early going, and as the match closed out.
The Caps got on the scoreboard in this one while a good portion of the Impact fans were still standing in the beer line at Saputo Stadium. Just six minutes in, Nigel Reo-Coker made a blistering run down the right flank, easily outpacing a dodgy-looking Alessandro Nesta, and put a solid square ball across goal. Matt Watson latched onto it, hitting Hassoun Camara's arm with his shot. Kenny Miller took the penalty, and buried it low past an outstretched Troy Perkins.
Vancouver have often suffered letdowns this season after scoring, but that wasn't the case this afternoon. In fact, the Impact didn't really get a sniff until the 23' when LM Andres Romero neatly flat-footed Y .P. Lee deep in Caps territory and slid a ball across the goalmouth, past a sprawling David Ousted. Felipe's back door attempt was blocked by Jay DeMerit before Gershon Koffie cleared the ball away.
Tommy Heinemann, getting his first start since the Jurassic era, played well for the Caps in the first half, holding up balls and harrying Montreal's CBs, Nesta and Matteo Ferrari. His hard work nearly paid of at 30', when he almost pinched the ball off last man Nesta , but the big man's touch let him down, as he struggled to gain control of the ball before getting shut down.
Then, just four minutes later, Carlyle Mitchell got on the end of a Reo-Coker free kick, only to see his header hit the bar, with the rebound hitting Perkins' back, but deflecting aggravatingly wide. Jordan Harvey made a last-gasp sliding stab at the ball, but couldn't hit the net.
At the 38' mark, the Caps experienced a curious stroke of luck - something they're wholly unused to this season. Patrice Bernier fired from the top of the box, with the ball cleared off the line by what appeared to be Jun Marques Davidson's shoulder, as Davidson was leaning to his right. Referee Jorge Gonzalez appeared to initially call a corner kick. Immediately best by a hoard of Impact players protesting vehemently, he then signaled a penalty. After a minute's delay, and some talking on the headset, Gonazalez then waved off the penalty and awarded the corner kick.
The Impact never seemed to fully recover from that point.
To close out the half, Heinemann missed a point blank opportunity off a Reo-Coker cross in the 43', and then three minutes later, Reo-Coker found himself 1 v 1 with Nesta, cut deftly to the inside before uncorking a blistering shot that rattled off the crossbar. The score at halftime: Caps 1, Crossbar 2.
Just five minutes into the second half, it was Kenny Miller's chance to squander a gilt-edged scoring chance. Reo-Coker's little flick from a Heinemann pass found Miller all alone 12 yards out, but Miller fired only inches high. Just a few minutes later, it was Montreal's turn to hit a crossbar, as Felipe's side-scissors attempt beat Ousted, but not the bar.
With 30 minutes on the clock, the Caps settled into defensive mode, somewhat earlier than most Vancouver fans would have liked. With the blue and white getting caught flat-footed at times, and firmly entrenched in defend-first mode, the momentum definitely shifted in favor of the home side.
Enter Camilo, who subbed on for Miller at the 60', after Miller appeared to tweak his groin.
Shortly thereafter, with the Impact definitely pressing, Patrice Bernier struck a nasty one from the top of the box. Ousted got a fingertip to the ball - just enough to direct it onto and then over the bar. Ousted would later make impressive stops off Marco Di Vaio and Daniele Paponi twice, in the 85', and again in the 86'.
With the Impact committing men forward, Vancouver had a chance to counter. And counter they did. Off a scramble in the Vancouver penalty area, Lee launched a desperation clearance that found its way to Camilo at midfield. After racing toward the Montreal box with Nesta, Camilo pulled off a stop and go that got him a yard of space. He fired from a sharp angle, Perkins got a hand to it, but not enough to stop the ball from making into the far side of the goal.
Just two minutes later, in the first of a very generous five minutes of time added, Camilo outran Justin Mapp at midfield, took on Romero, found an angle, and hammered home from 23 yards, high and just inside the right post to ice it at 3-0.
The victory breathes a little life into Vancouver's playoff hopes, vaulting them past FC Dallas, and closing the Caps to within three points of the LA Galaxy, who currently the fifth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Martin Rennie's tactics, particularly on the road, have been the subject of much discussion, and some derision this season. Today, the skipper got it all right, from his player selection, through the timing of subs, to match tactics. The Caps now return to Vancouver, where they'll host Real Salt Lake and then Portland.