Montreal Impact players littered the field Friday night, lying on their backs, some with hands over eyes, others with stunned looks pasted to their faces.
The squad’s Major League Soccer season had just ended with a last-minute 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution in Foxborough, Mass.
After making the post-season for the first time since 2016, an injury-time goal from Revs striker Gustavo Bou in the 95th minute ousted the Impact from the play-in round.
“It’s possibly the worst way you could lose,” said defender Luis Binks. “Last minute. I think we had chances, they had chances. But to lose like that, last minute, hurts. We’ve got to accept it, move one and come back next year even stronger.”
The result is hard to accept, added Binks, and there was little talk among the teammates as they filed off the field.
“Everyone was just gutted, disappointed,” said the 19-year-old Englishman. “It just seemed typical of this season. There’s always something.”
It’s been a hard year for the Impact, who weathered multiple set backs, including injuries, the transfer of star midfielder Saphir Taider, and a mid-season relocation to Harrison, N.J., due to pandemic border restrictions.
“We had so much adversity throughout the whole year, but when the desire is there, you can see,” said Montreal coach Thierry Henry.
The club struggled through the end of the year, not clinching a playoff spot until the final day of the regular season when they posted a 3-2 comeback win over D.C. United.
Montreal (8-13-2) was the underdog heading into Friday’s contest, having lost three of four meetings between the two clubs during the regular season and finishing one spot below the Revolution (8-7-8) in the Eastern Conference standings.
“New England had three games against us where they had an easy win. Today it wasn’t easy at all,” Henry said. “We gave them a game.”
The Impact were playing without several key pieces, including Samuel Piette, who was suspended after being shown the red card in the D.C. United win. Teammate Victor Wanyama had not yet returned from playing with the Kenyan national team and captain Jukka Raitala was out of commission with an injury.
Still, Montreal’s rejigged lineup started out strong against New England, pressing hard and hemming the Revs into their own end for extended periods.
Carles Gil broke the stalemate in the 38th minute, sending a low shot skipping across the grass past diving Impact ‘keeper Clement Diop.
Romell Quioto evened the score with a header in the 61st, and the Impact held strong for more than 30 minutes in a game that seemed destined for extra time.
Then, in the fifth minute of injury time, New England struck with a dagger.
DeJuan Jones set up the game winner, sending a pass to a wide-open Bou above the penalty box. The Argentine designated player wound up and sent a right-footed cannon in past Diop.
The Montreal ‘keeper fell to the goal-line, lying on his back for several moments, hands above his head.
Diop was tested early and often in the contest, stopping five-of-seven on-target shots. At the other end of the field, Matt Turner made four saves for the Revolution.
Despite Friday’s result, Henry was pleased with his team
“I’m really proud of them. Really. I’m being honest. For what they had to go through during the season. Could it have been better? Yes, of course it could have been better,” he said. “But I’m really proud of them for what they did tonight and all season.”
While the Impact’s MLS season is over, the club still has one game to play in 2020. Montreal will face Olimpia in CONCACAF Champions League action on Dec. 15.
Staying mentally focused for the contest won’t be easy, but nothing has come easily this year, Henry said.
“That’s the story of our season. That’s what we had to deal with all the time all season,” he said. “We’re going to have to regroup and make sure we can make a comeback against Olimpia which is not going to be easy. But those guys need to keep themselves motivated, we also have to keep them motivated.”
NOTES: Revolution forward Tajon Buchanan was taken off in the 49th minute for an apparent knee injury. The 21-year-old from Brampton, Ont., was a force for New England through the regular season, registering two goals and two assists in 23 appearances New England’s Tommy MacNamara and Montreal’s Jorge Corrales were both shown the yellow card for unsporting behaviour.