Rookie Blake Smith has become the Montreal Impact’s super-sub.
The 22-year-old came off the bench to score the winning goal in added time on Saturday night as the Impact ended a five-game winless run with a 1-0 MLS victory over Sporting Kansas City.
With the crowd of 20,527 at Saputo Stadium on their feet for the spectacular finish to what had been a tight, defensive struggle, Smith did his signature series of handsprings across the field in celebration.
Watch: Impact beat Sporting KC 1-0
“I want to come in and bring that spark and help the team get that final push,” the University of New Mexico product said. “Fortunately, it worked for us this time.”
Veteran Patrice Bernier made the play happen as he let Hassoun Camara’s pass go through his feet to Marco Di Vaio at the top of the box, a play that is called a dummy in soccer. The veteran striker slipped a pass to Smith on the left side for a low shot between the legs of goalie Jimmy Nielsen.
“Sometimes a dummy creates space, and it allowed Marco time to shoot or make a play,” said Bernier. “We tried to push more offensively in the second half because Marco was alone (up front) most of the game and it paid off.
“It gave him enough time and Blake was cold-blooded and was able to finish it off and give us the 1-0.”
The victory moved Montreal (10-5-5) to one point behind Eastern Conference-leading Kansas City (10-6-6) with two games in hand. Sporting ended a six-game undefeated streak dating to a 2-1 defeat at home to Montreal on June 1.
The Impact took the season series between the clubs 2-1-0. And like the other games, tempers flared on the pitch and between the coaches, although Montreal bench boss Marco Schallibaum managed to avoid being ejected as he was in their last meeting.
“Both teams know you can’t give an inch,” said Bernier. “It’s a playoff type of intensity.
“But this is what we need. This is a team we’ll be fighting with for a playoff spot.”
It was a second goal this season for Smith, with both coming in extra time. He scored in the 94th minute in a 5-3 win over Philadelphia on May 25. This one came six minutes into added time.
Montreal made Smith the eighth overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft and it looks like they’ve found a good one. Fast and a natural left-footer, Smith competes hard every chance he gets to play.
“We saw that Blake is very dynamic,” said director of socccer operations Matt Jordan, who scouted Smith with assistant coach Mauro Biello. “He has a tremendous amount of speed and he’s a very competitive kid with a good understanding of the outside midfielder position.
“We’re very happy for him.”
It was his 12th appearance in MLS, all as a substitute. For now, Schallibaum is content to continue using him off the bench, although he looks to have potential as a starter in the future.
“Every time he comes on he brings energy,” Bernier said of Smith. “It’s not easy to come out of college to professional (soccer) on a team that’s done well since the beginning of the season.
“It’s the difference we need sometimes from a guy off the bench. I give him credit. He keeps working, he’s very humble and he got the winning goal today.”
Smith also had a chance a moment before the game-winner that Nielsen tipped over the bar.
Montreal has gone to a more defensive set-up since a rough spell in which they surrendered 12 goals in four games. It started last week when they played to a 0-0 draw at home with FC Dallas.
Kansas City controlled the ball for most of the first half, but didn’t get a dangerous shot on goal.
Montreal answered with quick breaks and came close as Nielsen made a smart save on Sanna Nyassi in alone on the left side. Another chance came from a Di Vaio free kick from the edge of the penalty area that was deflected wide.
The visitors got a glittering chance off Graham Zusi’s free kick five minutes into the second half, which was headed to Claudio Bieler for a shot that forced Troy Perkins to make a leaping save.
Kansas City had a free kick from 25 yards out in the 86th minute, but Soony Saad put it over the bar.
Early in the second half, Perkins needed treatment on the field for a cut on his left eye after a collision with Kai Kamara. Backup Evan Bush warmed up, but Perkins stayed in the game.
The delay caused officials to add seven minutes of extra time, which gave Smith time to score.