Crowds have thinned as the Montreal Impact dropped to the bottom of Major League Soccer's standings, but the 15,995 who turned out Saturday night got a show from recently acquired designed player Ignacio Piatti.
The midfielder known as Nacho scored his first MLS goal in the 40th minute and added another in injury time as the lmpact cooled off the Columbus Crew with a 2-0 victory.
The 29-year-old Piatti, who arrived three weeks ago from the San Lorenzo club in Argentina, helped the last place Impact (5-15-5) to a second MLS win in three games, while also playing in a CONCACAF Champions League victory two weeks ago in El Salvador.
"He's the type of player we've been looking for," defender Matteo Ferrari said of Piatti, who brings speed, vision and skill to a club that was in need of a midfield general.
Piatti, the club's second designated player after striker Marco Di Vaio, took a feed from Felipe Martins inside the Columbus area, put a deke on Michael Parkhurst and drilled in his first MLS goal in the 40th minute.
He added another at the end in extra time with a sliding shot on a loose ball after Di Vaio lost the ball.
Columbus (8-9-9) had won their previous two matches.
They were shut out after scoring nine times in three games, largely due to a rare collective defensive effort from Montreal. Holding midfielders Patrice Bernier and Felipe were especially busy limiting the chances of the Crew's Argentine star Federico Higuain.
"The team played well," Piatti said through a translator. "We did what we have to do to win.
"I see it is a physical league, but it's not a problem. I will adapt. It's already getting better."
With nine regular season games remaining, the playoffs are an all-but impossible dream for Montreal, but coach Frank Klopas hopes a strong finish will give them momentum going into the 2015 campaign. The club is also hoping to go far in the Champions League.
Piatti is a big weapon
Adding Piatti gives them a big weapon, positioned at midfield just behind the striker where he can feed Di Vaio or go for a goal himself.
"We've made some positive moves," said Klopas. "With Ignacio coming in, it gives more confidence to the group.
"We didn't deserve to lose a lot of those games, but we made changes and created depth on the team. We're not there yet. I think we still need to add a couple of pieces to get the team where we want it to be."
They are also in position to play the spoiler down the stretch. The loss was a setback for the Crew, who remained tied for third place in the Eastern Conference on 35 points with Toronto FC, who lost 3-0 to New England.
The Impacts next game is at Houston on Sept. 6, where they'll shoot for a first road win of the season.
"We can be the team that's the party pooper," said Bernier.
The Saputo Stadium crowd could feel a goal coming for Piatti after he forced goalkeeper Steve Clark to make a sharp hand save in the 30th minute.
Two minutes later, they booed as Piatti's pass for Di Vaio into the area hit referee Juan Guzman, who a moment later showed Piatti the yellow card for a rough tackle.
Guzman made it up in the 34th by taking out the yellow for Tony Tchani for tripping Piatti.
Then Di Vaio drew a free kick just outside the Columbus area and opted for a pass that Piatti headed into Clark's hands.
And less than a minute later, Piatti scored.
"He is at ease on the ball," Bernier said of Piatti. "He scored two, but we have a lot of firepower now up front.
"It was nice to see him score and be part the momentum we've had for the last few games. We're doing a much better job collectively."
Higuain was given a free kick from 25 yards after a sliding tackle from Hassoun Camara but the Argentine's shot went into keeper Evan Bush's arms.
Substitute Aaron Schoenfeld's header from close range off a corner kick in the 78th gave Bush trouble, but he managed to put a hand onto the ball.
The scoresheet had Columbus outshooting Montreal 13-10, but Bush had few difficult saves.