It was a brave decision from Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie, but it worked to perfection. Rennie's decision to leave the club's leading scorer Camilo out of the lineup for Saturday's match at Montreal was a major talking point leading into the all-Canadian matchup, but the Scottish coach got the outcome he had been hoping for.
Camilo was left out in favour of Tommy Heinemann, a big, strong, bustling forward. Speaking to Rennie ahead of the game he explained his decision was made largely due to the opposition. He wanted Heinemann on from the start to use his physical attributes against Montreal's backline, and he planned to unleash Camilo late in the game when the Impact defence had been worn down. It worked a treat.
The Whitecaps ended up beating Montreal 3-0 and giving a major boost to their fading playoff hopes. It was a third road win of the season and a second clean sheet in a row. There were plenty of nervous moments along the way, and some controversy as well, but the end result was probably better than Rennie had even dared dream about.
Heinemann's inclusion had the desired effect early in the game, making a nuisance of himself around the Impact's central defensive pairing of Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari, and the Whitecaps early breakthrough came from the penalty spot as Kenny Miller scored to give them a seventh-minute lead. There was no doubt about the decision from referee Jorge Gonzalez who penalized Impact defender Hassoun Camara for a handball. That opportunity was created following a strong run down the right by Nigel Reo-Coker who had an excellent first half for Vancouver.
The Impact had plenty of chances to equalize, hit the bar a couple of times, and had it not been for a string of good saves by Whitecaps Danish goalkeeper David Ousted, Montreal would have been back in the match. However, as they pushed forward looking for a leveling goal late in the game, Camilo came off the bench to score two in two minutes – including a wonderstrike – to seal the points for the Caps. It's now 16 goals for the season for the Brazilian who sits two behind Montreal's Marco Di Vaio for the league lead in scoring.
The Impact will also point to an incident just before half time as a major turning point in the match. With the Whitecaps leading 1-0, referee Gonzalez awarded a penalty to Montreal following a long range strike by Patrice Bernier that struck Whitecaps midfielder Jun Marques Davidson around the top of the arm.
Gonzalez then changed his mind following consultation with the other officials – although they were standing at halfway. It was a decision that Impact coach Marco Schallibaum called "a scandal," and Impact President Joey Saputo complained on Twitter: "PK or not, how does the furthest official on the field, overturn a referee's call?"
Saputo has a point. It was a situation that caused massive frustration because the referee was on the spot, made the call, and then seemed to changed his mind based on advice given by people much further away from the incident. However, even with the benefit of replays in the broadcast booth, it was very difficult for us to make a definitive call about whether it should have been a penalty. If the officials are not certain, they shouldn't give a spot kick.
The result in Montreal leaves the Whitecaps in a much more positive position as they head home for back-to-back games against Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers. The playoffs are still a long shot – that was only Vancouver's second win in 10 matches – but at least they are still alive. A win at home to RSL next Saturday (7pm et/4pm pt on TSN2) would see them climb to within one point of fifth-placed Colorado with four games remaining, two of which are against the Denver club.
For the Impact, it was a concerning week. Despite playing well for periods in all three of their matches, they ended up with three defeats in a row (Two MLS, one Champions League) conceding eight goals in the process. By the end of the weekend, the Impact had fallen six points behind Eastern Conference leaders New York.
Montreal are still third in the standings, but they are now just two points ahead of fourth-placed Houston Dynamo, and with an aging squad the Impact know the importance of finishing in the top three and avoiding the additional fourth vs. fifth match to open the playoffs. With back-to-back road games on the way against Chicago and Houston, Schallibaum will be hoping his team can tighten up defensively, whilst also showing a more clinical touch in front of goal.