CHESTER, Pa. - It was Marco Di Vaio's return that ended Montreal Impact's poor start to the season and a three-game losing streak.
The squad's leading goal scorer a year ago, Di Vaio was playing his first match of the season following a three-game carryover suspension from the 2013 playoffs.
The Italian veteran scored a beauty in the second half on Saturday, salvaging a 1-1 draw for the 10-man Impact against the Philadelphia Union.
"We're walking away from a difficult place to play with a point," said manager Frank Klopas. "The way we had to come back and fight, we were short-handed for a long period of time and I think it's a very positive result. It's something we can build on."
It was a cold, rainy, and windy day in Pennsylvania and Klopas made three changes to the squad that lost 2-0 to Seattle at home last week. Heath Pearce replaced Jeb Brovsky at left back while Andres Romero was preferred to Patrice Bernier in the midfield. Klopas stayed with the 4-2-3-1 formation but swapped Di Vaio for Andrew Wenger in the lone striker role.
The Impact dodged a bullet in the 10th minute after Union midfielder Vincent Nogueira beat Hernan Bernardello on the touchline. The Frenchman's shot went just inches wide after a 50-yard run at goal from the right flank.
But Nogueira would make up for that miss on the 35th minute. Taking a feed from striker Jack McInerney, he beat the Impact backline into the right channel and fired from the same angle, this time hitting the target and giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead.
"I thought we started the game strong, but we made a few errors that put us on the back foot in the first half," said Pearce, who was starting his first game for the Impact. "We didn't keep the ball as well as we could have in the first half and we obviously gave up a bad goal."
The Impact had a great chance to level in the 68th minute, when Di Vaio found space on a counter attack. With an eye-opening and age-defying 70-yard run, he beat the Union defence but could only fire over the crossbar from inside the box.
It looked to fall apart in the 76th minute when substitute Wenger was sent off with a straight red card. Referee Edvin Jurisevic wasted no time in making the decision after the striker was judged to have gone studs-first into a tackle on the goal scorer Nogueira.
With ten minutes to play and a fourth consecutive loss looming, Di Vaio showed why he is so important.
Down a man and playing on the counter, he found space on the left and inched toward goal with the Philadelphia defence stretched. Stepping to his right, he ripped a curling shot that beat Zac MacMath at the far-post and levelled the game at one.
"When you have players like that, it's just that one moment," Klopas said. "Those are guys that you never take off the field. They have some chances, and they might miss. But you saw him, he gets the ball and it's one special play that he can pull off. That's why there are guys that you don't take out, because they have one magic moment in them."
The draw is Montreal's first result of the season and moves the Impact to a 0-3-1 record ahead of next week's home match against New York.
"For us, it's a big point," said Bernier, who entered in the second half. "After four games we have to come away with something. It shows great character to get the result after the red card, but we still have to look at the idea that we're not right when we're going eleven versus eleven. Over the last few minutes we showed character, we (defended) together, we got the goal, and we got a result away from home. Right now that point is big for us."