First-half goals by Will Bruin and Oscar Boniek Garcia sucked the life out of the Impact as the Houston Dynamo bounced them from Major League Soccer's post-season with a 3-0 victory on Thursday.
Montreal was clearly frustrated, losing its composure and earning three ejections over the course of the game.
"The match was not so bad at the beginning, but they went up by two, and that made it very difficult for us," said Impact head coach Marco Schallibaum. "We thought that if we could make it 2-1 in the second half, we'd have a chance, but then we got the red card."
Bruin scored a second goal in the 72nd minute for a 3-0 Dynamo lead after Impact defender Nelson Rivas was ejected from the match following his second yellow card two minutes prior.
In the final minute of the match two Montreal players — forward Marco Di Vaio and defender Andres Romero — were handed red cards following a skirmish in the near corner near the Impact's goal. Di Vaio, Romero and Rivas will miss Montreal's first regular season game in 2014.
"Sorry for my reaction in the game tonight," said Romero in a tweet after the game. "I felt great impotence and no I couldn't control. Excuse me!"
The Impact qualified for the MLS playoffs in just their second season in the league, but they had a share of the Eastern Conference lead as late as Sept. 8 before falling to fifth after a loss on the final day of the regular season. The Dynamo finished two points ahead of Montreal in the standings to earn home field for the knockout round.
"It has been a long season, and of course we are tired," said Schallibaum. "But that is no excuse for what happened."
Some members of Montreal's lineup are seeing the late-season collapse as an opportunity for growth.
"We can learn from Houston; they are a good team and played a very good match tonight," said Impact defender Hassoun Camara. "Yes, it's an experience, and maybe a hard lesson for us to learn tonight, but we have to look toward the future and find a way to come back."
Montreal's Justin Mapp had a chance to even the score in the 18th minute, but his shot just missed the right post after Bobby Boswell turned the ball over in the far corner. Di Vaio led the Impact with five shots, just two of which were on target.
Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall recorded his fourth post-season shutout and said he is looking forward to the rest of the playoffs.
"Sometimes it's fun being a goalkeeper and watching the team in front of you put on a performance (like that)," said Hall. "It makes soccer fun, especially when you look around and everyone is playing their best soccer of the year."
In the 16th minute, Bruin received a back-heeled pass from Ricardo Clark, found some space just inside the box and ripped home his fifth career playoff goal. Bruin scored four goals as Houston reached the MLS Cup final a year ago.
The Dynamo extended their lead in the 27th minute as Boniek Garcia converted a penalty kick after Montreal's Hernan Bernardello tripped him in the box.
Since Aug. 24, following a 5-0 win over Houston in Montreal, the Impact has won just two of 11 games and have been shutout seven times.
"We just have not had the right disposition in the second half of the season," added Schallibaum. "There was a lot to handle mentally. We need to analyze what happened, what we have gone through and just try to be better next year."
Houston advances to play the No. 1-seeded New York Red Bulls (17-9-8) in a two-game, aggregate score series. The first match is in Houston on Sunday, and the second will be at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey on Nov. 6. The Red Bulls won the 2013 Supporters Shield with the best record in the MLS.
"The one thing about this group, the attention to detail once the playoffs starts, it grows minute by minute and they prepare themselves to give themselves the best chance possible," said Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear. ""Even at the end there, cooler heads prevailed and its important that we did because the game on Sunday."