At the tender age of 20, Finnish soccer player Lassi Lappalainen swears that he shaves — occasionally — although on this night there was no visible signs of any stubble on his boyish face.The newest member of the Impact, who joined the Major League Soccer team only last Thursday, dreamed he would score a goal for Montreal in his debut with the new team.Instead, the 6-foot, 175-pounder scored twice, including only four minutes into the match Saturday night, as Montreal blanked the Philadelphia Union 4-0 before 16,344 spectators at Saputo Stadium.The victory ended a four-game losing streak for the Impact, improving its record to 10-11-3. The four-goal explosion was the most offence produced by Montreal in a game this season. It also marked the seventh clean-sheet this season by veteran goalkeeper Evan Bush.
Montreal Impact midfield Lassi Lappalainen (21) and Philadelphia Union midfielder Ilsinho (25) battle for the ball during the second half at Saputo Stadium.
Jean-Yves Ahern /
USA TODAY Sports
Orji Okwonkwo also scored twice for the Impact, increasing his goals total to six. But the night clearly belonged to the baby-faced Lappalainen, who was substituted in the 82nd minute, leaving the pitch, predictably, to a standing ovation.Lappalainen, on loan from Italian club Bologna FC 1909, couldn’t have written a more Hollywood-like script and will be hard-pressed to improve on his debut performance. MLS opposing clubs undoubtedly will defend him more closely now moving forward.“I saw a dream, scoring one goal. Not like in my dreams, but this is a dream now,” Lappalainen said. He claimed he wasn’t nervous prior to the game, scoring so early obviously ending any angst he might have experienced.He displayed deft acceleration and finish, taking a pass from Zachary Brault-Guillard, before deking goalkeeper Andre Blake and scoring on a low shot.Lappalainen said he was slightly surprised to start the game. “I think I’ve been training good, so maybe that’s why. In the game, I did well. It’s great.“The teammates, a great pass for the first goal. And that gave me confidence. From that, it just really helped to play the rest of the game. The goal was so relieving.”It likely caught some people by surprise when Lappalainen was part of head coach Rémi Garde’s starting formation. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been totally shocking had Garde elected not to even dress the newcomer, giving him time to adjust to his new city, country and teammates.But with the Impact in the throes of a malaise, a desperate Garde was seeking any means possible to shake his team out of its funk. With the victory, Montreal strengthened its hold on sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Impact’s in a battle with New England and Toronto FC for the final two playoff berths with 10 games remaining.“You can see in the few training sessions. I watched him playing many games before we decided to buy him,” Garde said. “In training sessions, you could see a lot of stuff. You could see the guy’s focused. If he’s okay to make an effort for the team or not, how he feels with the other guys. How he fits. I saw all of that right away.“It’s not only the goals he scored. It’s the way he combined with the others. The way he closed down the left channel in front. He worked very hard for the team. I guessed before the game that he was able to do that. He wasn’t coming from a vacation. He was coming straight from Champions League qualifications in Europe.”Not only did Lappalainen display great acceleration, the attacking midfielder might develop into a promising playmaker as well. After scoring his opening goal, he fed defender Daniel Lovitz, who nearly scored from a sharp angle.Lappalainen’s second goal, in the opening minute of the second half, was scored from a sharp angle — a play many less-talented players might not have been able to convert. He broke down the left side before beating Blake low to the far post.Garde has no concerns Lappalainen’s impressive performance will inflate his ego. “I’m not too scared about that,” the coach said. “I’m more scared Bologna will call back the loan.”The visitors remain first in the Eastern Conference, the Union’s record now 11-7-6. Philadelphia entered the match having scored 41 goals, second in the league. Although the Union failed to beat Bush while directing 13 shots his way — including three on target — this game might have turned well into the first half.In the 32nd, Bush smothered a shot from distance by Marco Fabian. Some three minutes later, Kacper Przybylko, who leads Philadelphia with nine goals, directed a low shot at Bush from the box. Przybylko also hit the post in the 39th.“I have to say we were lucky on one or two chances they created,” Garde admitted. “We (lost) momentum at the end of the first half. They pushed very hard. I think at this time we didn’t defend very well. We were behind the ball … and had problems to go out with the ball. They pushed and pushed.“Of course one more clean sheet is important for everyone.”It wasn’t long after Bush’s two saves that Okwonkwo scored in the 37th, giving the Impact a two-goal lead. That cushion was more than enough before Lappalainen provided the cherry on the firstname.lastname@example.org/HerbZurkowsky1Related