The conversation between Marc Bergevin and Rémi Garde, we would imagine, went something like this:“Rémi?”“Oui?”“Marc here.”“Marc?”“Bergevin? Directeur général des Canadiens?”“Ah, oui, oui.”“Rémi, I just called to say get yourself a Finn.”“Pardon?”“A Finn, Rémi. You’re in a slump. You can’t win a game to save your job. You can’t score goals. Get yourself a Finnish player.”“Finland, you say?”“Finland. Small country, but their athletes are tough, smart and talented. We’ve had good luck with Finns here in Montreal, Rémi. Saku Koivu. Artturi Lehkonen. Joel Armia. And Jesperi Kotkaniemi, of course.”“Of course. But Janne Niinimaa? Not so much.”“Well, that wasn’t on my watch, Rémi, but everyone makes mistakes. Niinimaa for Mike Ribeiro. Call it an exchange of problems.”“I understand. Finlandia forever.”“Finlandia. Exactly. But Finns, Rémi. Montreal likes Finns, Finns like Montreal. Mika Häkkinen, Kimi Räikkönen — you get the picture. Get yourself a Finn.”“You might have something there, Marc …”The above conversation, it should be noted, is entirely fictional. But the result is not: Montreal has a new Finnish sports hero, 20-year-old Lassi Lappalainen. With the Impact in the throes of a losing streak and their chance of a playoff spot slipping away, Garde reached out for the young Finnish midfielder, with remarkable results.In a smallish park a couple of healthy goal kicks away from the gigantic Olympic Stadium, where fellow Finn and almost namesake Lasse Viren became both a legend and an ongoing controversy during the 1976 Olympics, Lappalainen began carving his own legend almost as soon as he was on the pitch Saturday.It took all of four minutes. Zachary Brault-Guillard did most of the work with a hard, probing run down the right side and found the streaking Lappalainen with a precise pass. Lappalainen could have come undone with that excess of good fortune, but he remained calm, took a deft couple of steps to his right and finished with his right foot.Four minutes’ work, and Lappalainen already had his first goal for Montreal. At that, it might not have meant much had Impact keeper Evan Bush not made two big stops, first on a shot from outside by Marco Fabian and then a point-blank save on human Scrabble-board accident Kacper Przybylko.A minute after that save, Orji Okwonkwo scored off a beautiful setup from returning star Ignacio Piatti to make it 2-0, setting the stage for Lappalainen to show that his first goal was no accident.
Montreal Impact midfielder Lassi Lappalainen (21) scores past Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (18) during the first half at Saputo Stadium on Saturday, July 27, 2019.
Jean-Yves Ahern /
USA TODAY Sports
The second half had barely begun when Lappalainen stepped up, intercepted a pass and chipped the ball to Piatti. Piatti tipped the ball ahead and started to break, but the Finn was the one who had the speed to get to the ball — streaked down the left side and beat the Union defence with pure pace. Seventeen seconds into the half, the Finnish flash had finished Philly.Okwonkwo would finish the scoring with a second goal before Olympic judges awarded him a perfect “10” for his tumbling run, one of the best goal celebrations in the game.Piatti was masterful in his return to MLS action, Bush solid and Okwonkwo spectacular. Bush, the reliable goalkeeper through it all, racked up a bunch of milestones with his 70th win for the Impact, his 40th MLS shutout and 15,000 MLS minutes.But the day belonged to Lappalainen, who didn’t even have time to unpack his bags following a loan transfer from Joey Saputo’s other club, Bologna FC. (And yes, the Impact have an option to extend the loan through the 2020 season.)From the limited look we had at the young man, he would appear to have an extra dollop of what the British call “pace.” He’s fast, in other words. Fast enough to go right by the defender for his first goal and then (which the Union players should have known was coming) to simply blow their doors off en route to his second goal of the night.Lappalainen’s heroics could not have come at a better time. The Impact were running on fumes, in the throes of a four-game losing streak in MLS after a strong start to the season was undone by a combination of injuries (with Piatti missing two months after a second knee injury) and international play.Fans were complaining that the Impact were dull, they couldn’t score, they weren’t worth watching. Then, in four minutes’ time, it went completely the other way. Before the game was over, I heard from a half-dozen fans at the stadium (including one attending his first professional soccer game) raving over how much fun they were having.The Impact needed the win and they also needed that buzz factor. With the Alouettes rising from the dead to make some noise even without an owner, Saputo’s club was facing an unexpected midsummer challenge from North American football. They responded brilliantly against Philadelphia. It’s only one game, but the Union lead in the Eastern Conference of MLS in both points and goals scored, so to keep a clean sheet against them is an accomplishment.It would appear the Impact have finally found their Finn.firstname.lastname@example.org/jacktodd46Related