The reunion of former Bologna strikers Marco Di Vaio and Daniele Paponi was a resounding success for the Montreal Impact.
Di Vaio scored his fourth goal of the Major League Soccer season on a feed from Paponi and the two combined for eight shots as the Impact ended a two-game winless run with a 2-0 victory over the 10-man Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon.
“We did well, especially in the second half,” said Di Vaio, the Impact’s lone designated player who left Bologna to join the Impact midway through the 2012 season.
Paponi arrived on a trial from the Italian Serie-A side, where he had seen action in only three matches this season. Looking to restart in career in Montreal, the 25-year-old signed with the Impact last week.
He saw 30 minutes of action in the Impact’s 2-0 loss in Toronto on Wednesday in Amway Canadian Championship play and made his MLS debut against the Fire before a nearly full house of 19,773 at Saputo Stadium.
Coach Marco Schallibaum, who usually plays a 4-1-4-1 formation, switched to a 4-4-2 so Di Vaio and Paponi could play together up front. It worked, as both stood out.
“We know each other well,” said 36-year-old Di Vaio. “We played together for two years.
“We can do even better because Daniele is coming off a stretch where he didn’t play a lot and he needs more games to improve his physical conditioning. We can do better, but we’re happy with what we were able to do.”
Paponi said it helped that there was already some chemistry between them.
“We were able to find each other and now we have to continue that,” he said. “Today was good, but we did it as a team. We hope to continue to build on that for the future.”
The Impact (5-1-1), coming off a draw two weeks ago with Columbus, improved to 3-0-1 at home while the Fire (2-5-1) saw their early season struggles continue. Chicago is 0-3-1 on the road.
It was a match Montreal wanted to win badly to get back the confidence they had while starting the season with four straight wins.
“Especially coming off tying our last home game and after the result in Toronto, it was important for us to win this game,” said captain Davy Arnaud.
After a scoreless first half, Argentine midfielder Romero got his first MLS goal 57 minutes in as he took a ball on the left side, sidestepped Fire captain Logan Pause and placed the ball in the far top corner behind Sean Johnson.
With the Fire down a man in the 76th minute, Di Vaio made a deft move to control a chip pass from Paponi and, with his back to the goal, spun and fired a low shot inside the left post.
Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz was shown the red card for a reckless tackle on Paponi in the 64th minute and a skirmish erupted when Johnson then charged at Di Vaio to thwart a shot attempt. Both were cautioned.
Fire coach Frank Klopas didn’t like the call, but didn’t dispute the result of the match.
“We had a good first 20 or 25 minutes and then we lost possession of the game,” said Klopas. “We made bad decisions and turned the ball over and momentum kind of shifted.
“The (first) goal came out of nothing. And obviously the red card changed everything.”
The Impact, in only their second league match since March 30, showed their rust early as Chicago controlled the play and got chances from Gonzalo Segares, Patrick Nyarko and a long blast by Daniel Paladini that forced Troy Perkins to dive to his right.
Montreal then found its legs as Paponi headed an Andrea Pisanu pass just over the bar in the 27th minute. Jeb Brovsky just missed the left post with a volley and Paponi hit another drive just wide.
Already hit with injuries in the central defence, the Impact saw veteran Alessandro Nesta leave in the 54th minute after aggravating an adductor muscle problem that sidelined him earlier in the season.
France native Wandrille Lefevre, a product of the club’s academy, went in for his first MLS action. He was given an assist on Romero’s goal and saw the yellow card for a tackle from behind.
“I was surprised, but I didn’t have time to get stressed out,” he said. “I did as well as I could.”
Pisanu also left the match with a thigh injury.
The Impact stay home for the second leg of their two-game series with Toronto on Wednesday night and then play at San Jose on Saturday. The Fire have a bye week before playing host to Philadelphia on May 11.
Notes: Midfielder Patrice Bernier started on the bench for the first time this season and substituted for Felipe Martins after 60 minutes. Bernier had been among only four Impact players to play every minute . . . Karl Ouimette also came out of the starting 11 in favour of Dennis Iapichino. . . Chicago defender Wells Thompson served a one-game suspension for a reckless tackle last week against Columbus. Pause moved into his position at right back, while Daniel Paladini started in midfield.