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What we learned as the Impact beat the Red Bulls, 1-0, in the MLS playoffs

Montreal have an important and somewhat surprising one-goal lead going into the second leg of their playoff tie.

MLS: Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t always the prettiest match around, but a huge goal from Matteo Mancosu saw the Montreal Impact earn an important 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in their MLS Eastern Conference semifinal tie. On top of that, a late red card for New York could give the Canadian team an even bigger edge going into the second leg next weekend.

The match started somewhat slowly, with New York playing a fairly conservative gameplan and Montreal trying to save energy as much as possible rather than burn themselves out by battering away at their opponents. There were certainly plenty of opportunities to score in the first half for both teams, but it seemed very much like everyone was waiting to see what happened next.

"What happened next" wound up being Montreal taking a massively important lead in the 61st minute when Mancosu, a growing hero for Montreal in recent weeks since the abrupt departure of Didier Drogba, scored another huge goal with a jaw-dropping finish past Luis Robles. The chance was created by a rare mistake from New York’s defense, which had failed to properly deal with a loose ball in the box before it found its way to Mancosu to slam home.

That moment woke the match up in a big way, with New York chasing an equalizer and away goal, and Montreal trying to extend their lead at any cost. What had been a fairly slow and considered match was suddenly an end-to-end affair, with chances galore at both ends, and heroic defensive stands keeping the score as it was — as well as some painful misses from Bradley Wright-Phillips that could have been that key goal for the Red Bulls.

In the end Montreal held on and won, thanks in large part to a strong defensive showing from Laurent Ciman and Patrice Bernier for Montreal, and a heroic showing in goal from Evan Bush. A late-match flaring of tempers saw New York lose a man to a red card as well, with Omer Damari flying in with his boots high on a stoppage-time challenge to clatter Calum Mallace and earn himself a suspension for the next match.

Now Montreal go into the second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinal clash with a somewhat surprising 1-0 lead, and having avoided giving up an away goal will be equally huge, especially if they can score a goal of their own on the road. This was expected to be a fairly one-sided playoff tie, but it'll be anyone's game in the second leg.

Montreal Impact: Evan Bush; Hassoun Camara, Victor Cabrera, Laurent Ciman, Ambrosie Oyongo; Patrice Bernier (Harry Shipp 90’), Marco Donadel, Hernan Bernadello (Calum Mallace 68’); Dominic Oduro (Johan Venegas 74’), Matteo Mancosu, Ignacio Piatti

Goals: Mancosu (61’)

New York Red Bulls: Luis Robles; Chris Duvall, Damien Perrinelle, Aurelien Collin, Kemar Lawrence (Sal Zizzo 90’); Felipe Martins, Dax McCarty; Alexander Muyl (Omer Damari 82’), Sacha Klještan, Mike Grella (Gonzalo Verón 73’); Bradley Wright-Phillips

Goals: None

Three things we learned

New York played for the second leg and paid for it

It became very clear fairly early in the match that the Red Bulls were more focused on the second leg of this match at home than they were on the game in front of them. They set up fairly conservatively, looking more to choke out Montreal’s scoring chances and get at least a draw in order to give themselves more room to work with next weekend. They weren’t playing completely in a bunker — New York were more than willing to launch forward when Montreal gave them an opening — but they weren’t looking to do much of anything that could expose themselves or risk making stupid mistakes that could cost them a goal or losing a player to a suspension.

That obviously didn’t wind up working in the end, with Montreal winning the match and Omer Damari making a horrible challenge late to earn a red card. In general it was actually a smart gameplan, and one that could have served them well — it just didn’t work out this time.

Montreal are well positioned to make this tie competitive ...

Getting that goal at the hour mark and holding on for a 1-0 win really changed the complexion of this tie. It was widely assumed that New York would just roll all over them. Looking at how the two teams have played in the last couple of months and the fact that the Red Bulls are simply a better team, that’s not a completely unreasonable expectation. But Montreal handled this match extremely well and got a big win and lead in the tie because of it, and opened up a chance for them to have a real shot at toppling New York.

But Red Bull Arena won’t be an easy place to play in, and they’ll have to create and execute the perfect gameplan to advance to the Eastern Conference final. Montreal gave themselves a chance, though, and that’s all you can ask for.

... but they need to change if they want to do well in the playoffs in the future

The Stade Saputo is a lovely place to play. The Montreal fans are incredibly passionate on the field. They deserve success, and getting to this round of the MLS Playoffs is a great sign of how far they’ve come. But they’re not built in a way to make this kind of success a long-term thing, with a very old squad that visibly struggled for energy as the year progressed. They need an injection of in-prime players who can maintain their fitness and effectiveness into this late stage of the season as well as help improve the quality of several key positions. That’s going to need to be the focus of Montreal’s offseason if they want to make major playoff pushes on a regular basis.