Montreal center backs make major impact in win over Sounders

USA TODAY Sports

The center back pairing of Matteo Ferrari and Alessandro Nesta has seen almost everything soccer has to offer between the two of them. On Saturday, they led their team to a win the way only veterans can.

SEATTLE — Forgive the Montreal Impact defenders for not being flustered at the sight and sound of nearly 40,000 fans in the stands. The Seattle Sounders FC support at CenturyLink Field may be spectacular by MLS standards, but it's nothing World Cup-winner Alessandro Nesta isn't used to.

"In Italy, every game, it's like that," Nesta said after his Impact pulled out a 1-0 win on Saturday. "It's a very good atmosphere here in Seattle — maybe the best in MLS."

But even when their teammates struggled against the wave of Sounders support, center backs Nesta and Matteo Ferrari stood firm. They knew that holding off early Seattle attacks would allow their team to grow in confidence.

"When you play away, you find it difficult, but you have to suffer for 15 minutes or 20 minutes, and we can win," Nesta said.

Ferrari, who sits next to Nesta in the dressing room and partially translated much of his partner's interview, nodded in agreement. The two Serie A veterans suffered the most on the Montreal team, containing multiple attacking waves from Eddie Johnson, Steve Zakuani, Mauro Rosales and Mario Martinez.

The Sounders sent multiple crosses into the box, from the wingers and outside backs, all to be cleared or saved by goalkeeper Troy Perkins.

An old adage in soccer says that good defenses bend, but they don't break — in other words, they absorb pressure from the opposition without any fatal lapses. Ferrari and Nesta did just that on Saturday, on both sides of the only goal of the game.

"A lot of teams don't go through us through the middle," holding midfielder Patrice Bernier said. "We can weather the storm against other teams."

Seattle looked like the more likely team to score in the opening half hour, only to have Davy Arnaud score against the run of play. As the match wound down, the Sounders mounted more desperate attacks, only to be denied by a combination of good defending, goal-post intervention and a bad miss by Johnson from inside the six-yard box.

Despite 25 open-play crosses, 15 attempts on goal and nine corner kicks, the Sounders couldn't find a way through. While the Impact never looked lethal in its build-up play and may not score many goals this season, it won't be conceding many, either.

Montreal found the most success using a classic Italian bunker-counter style, predicated on solid defense and quick transitions to attack. For years, the Italian national team has made a living on that style.

Nesta was on the 2006 team that won the World Cup that way. He saw action in three World Cups, two European Championships, 17 Serie A seasons and 10 UEFA Champions League campaigns.

He won the Champions League twice, Serie A Defender of the Year on multiple occasions and was named to the UEFA Team of the Year multiple times as well.

Ferrari is no slouch himself, with a slightly more eclectic resume. He joined Montreal from Besiktas in the Turkish Super Lig, where he played two seasons.

Before that, he played nine years in Serie A with Roma, Parma and Inter Milan, spending a one-year loan spell with Everton in the English Premier League. Sprinkled among that time were four Champions League seasons.

That comes out to 29 years of top-flight experience and 89 international caps between them (Ferrari has 11, while Nesta has 78).

"Last year, we were a new team with new players that barely had played with each other at all. We showed at the end of the year that we were building something. I think now we're slowly just progressing," Bernier said. "We have guys at the back in the team that (make sure) everybody's working hard for each other. We're able to pull out tough victories like today."


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