MONTREAL — Substitute Johan Venegas scored in the 77th minute to break a tie and lift the Montreal Impact to a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew in the opening leg of their MLS Eastern Conference semifinal on Sunday night.
Patrice Bernier also scored for Montreal, which takes a one-goal lead into the second leg of the two game, total goals series next Sunday in Columbus.
Federico Higuain scored for the Crew, who finished second in the regular season and had a bye to the semifinals.
The Impact lacked the sharpness and energy they showed in a 3-0 victory over Toronto FC in the knockout round of the playoffs on Thursday night.
They ended up grinding out a win in a game in which Ddidier Drogba was among three Impact players to see the yellow card.
The crowd of 17,655 roared on Sunday when Didier Drogba put the ball in the net 15 minutes in, but referee Chris Penso already had his hand up for a foul so it didn't count.
Then came a rare miscue from Drogba. Backing up in the Montreal goal area to play a lob pass from Justin Meram, Drogba got little force on a header and it went straight to Higuain for a goal into an open side in the 33rd.
Bernier, for a second playoff game in a row, put Montreal on the board with a clean header from six yards out off a corner kick from Marco Donadel in the 37th.
Only four minutes after Venegas replaced Bernier, the Costa Rican won a battle for the ball with Michael Parkhurst and went in on a two on one with Drogba. Venegas elected to shoot and picked the far corner for the game-winner.
The Impact made one change to their starting 11, inserting speedy Dominic Oduro on the right wing in place of Dilly Duka.
Montreal had only three days to prepare for the semifinal after beating TFC.
The Impact won both its games against Columbus in the regular season, 2-1 away and 3-0 at Saputo Stadium.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press