Union's MLS playoff hopes take a blow with 3-0 loss to Montreal

When the night began, the Union could see a path to the playoffs on the horizon. But at the final whistle of a 3-0 loss to the visiting Montreal Impact, the destination looked far away.

Swiss international Blerim Dzemaili was the night’s star, scoring the winner in the 69th minute and the finale in the 95th. Ignacio Piatti added a penalty kick goal in the 91st minute.

The result knocked the Union down to ninth place in the Eastern Conference, six points behind Columbus and Atlanta.

“We weren’t good enough in what was a big game,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We no longer really control our destiny and need help.”

Prior to the Impact’s first goal, the Union had enjoyed a lively stretch of play as Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush was called upon to make three stops in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Union goalkeeper John McCarthy made three big saves of his own on the night: against Piatti in the ninth minute, Dzemaili in the 63rd and Matteo Mancosu in the 85th. There was simply too much fire coming his way for him to keep it all out.

“John did his job,” Union defender Ray Gaddis said.

The Union’s best chance of the night came in the 66th minute. A smart pass from Ilsinho to Haris Medunjanin gave the Bosnian a great look at a group of Union players close to the Impact’s net. The ball fell to Giliano Wijnaldum, who hit the post with a shot from near the penalty spot.

Three minutes later, Dzemaili struck. He was the trailing runner on a Montreal break, and with the Union back line in retreat, Dzemaili popped up unmarked 16 yards out from goal. His shot gave McCarthy no chance. It didn’t help that the setup pass from Daniel Lovitz on the left wing took a deflection off Union defender Josh Yaro, but that didn’t excuse Dzemaili being so open.

“They exploited us too much out wide,” McCarthy said. “[Lovitz’s pass] deflected off Josh and I was like, crap, [Dzemaili] was kind of wide open. … He smashed it pretty hard, but I could have done better for sure.”

With five minutes to go, Union manager Jim Curtin took a tactical gamble by replacing defender Jack Elliott with striker Jay Simpson. The move to a 3-5-2 certainly opened the game up, but it did so in both directions. Montreal took advantage with the goals that buried the game.

Beyond the field, the night was highlighted by a series of tributes to former Sons of Ben president Kenny Hanson, who passed away last week after suffering a traumatic head injury while vacationing in South Carolina. Union players wore T-shirts bearing Hanson’s initials during pregame warm-ups, and Alejandro Bedoya and Curtin wore armbands with Hanson’s initials. There was also a pregame moment of silence, observed impeccably by the announced crowd of 15,297, and a giant banner raised in Hanson’s honor after the national anthem.

Had the Union won, of course, the game would have been remembered for other reasons too.