MONTREAL â€” With a goal in only eight minutes of playing time this season, Anthony Jackson-Hamel knows about making the most of an opportunity.
The Montreal Impact academy product mostly just sits on the bench, but he may see more playing time after a dramatic added-time goal that gave the club its first win in six Major League Soccer matches this season (1-2-3).
“When you’re a young guy and you get minutes on the pitch, you want to change the staff’s opinions,” Jackson-Hamel said Tuesday. “To work hard and deserve your minutes â€” that’s what I’m trying to do.”
The Quebec City native’s goal, which gave Montreal a 2-1 victory over expansion club Atlanta on Saturday at Saputo Stadium, had shades of Didier Drogba, the former Chelsea star who Jackson-Hamel got to know last season with the Impact.
A pass came up the middle from Hernan Bernardello and, instead of stopping the ball to set up a shot, Jackson-Hamel redirected it inside the post with the heel of his right foot with his back to the goal.
“The way the ball was coming, I don’t know what else I could have done,” he said. “It is some stuff that Didier would do, so it’s great.”
It was only the second time Jackson-Hamel got into a game this season, both times as a late substitution, but he managed to pick up his first MLS goal. He appeared in only seven regular season matches last year, only one as a starter.
It is tough for him to get minutes playing behind veteran striker Matteo Mancosu, with Dominic Oduro also able to move into the centre forward role if needed.
But one way to at least get coach Mauro Biello to think about it is to do something eye-catching.
“We’re very happy for him,” Biello said of Jackson-Hamel. “He helped the team win.
“Sometimes, when you’re not playing, it’s hard to feel a part of it. That’s the reality of pro sports. It’s opportunities, moments, timing. These are all factors that come into effect for a young player. That’s the big challenge, to convince us to use them. When I played it was the same. You’ve got to prove and merit all the minutes you get.”
It may help Jackson-Hamel get more playing time for Canada as well, as national team coach Octavio Zambrano and assistant Michael Findlay attended the game. Jackson-Hamel has played three times for the national squad, scoring his first international goal Jan. 22 against Bermuda.
He is not the only academy graduate to make his mark this season. Gifted 18-year-old Ballou Tabla scored his first MLS goal in Chicago and was impressive enough to replace Ignacio Piatti when the star midfielder missed the next two games with an injury.
With Piatti back against Atlanta, Tabla came off the bench and added a dose of energy to the attack.
“For us, as a staff, having that solution coming off the bench gives us that hidden card that we can use,” Biello said of Tabla. “The fact that he can play on the left, the right, underneath, in the middle gives us options depending on how the game is going.
“When he came in we put him in the middle and right away there was a momentum swing in our favour.”
Tabla and Jackson-Hamel were key weapons in the USL last season with the since-disbanded FC Montreal. It remains to be seen if they can do the same in MLS, where the Impact have tended to prefer veterans imported from Europe or South America.
“We believe that, for sure,” said Tabla, an Ivory Coast native who grew up in Montreal. “We played together in the USL and we had a good combination.
“I helped him to score like he helped me to try to find him. Now we’re on the first team and we will try to do the same thing.”
Note: Defender Victor Cabrera is doubtful to play Saturday in Philadelphia due to a swollen ankle.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press