What happened at the Olympic Stadium was big. Big in that 61,004 people showed up for a soccer game. That is amazing. Montreal has always been a Canadiens’ city with soccer mostly being off the radar except for a smaller (but loyal and passionate) fanbase. Could this run to the finals in the CONCACAF Champions League Finals mean that the tide is turning and Montreal is legitimately becoming a soccer city? I, for one, hope so. I saw quite a few young people there and hopefully the excitement of the game and crowd turned them into lifelong fans of the beautiful game. It was also big for the Impact as a club and the MLS as a league. The MLS is trying to get on the soccer world radar as one of the bigger soccer leagues in the world. It has hopes of competing with La Liga, Seria A, Bundeliga, and the English Premier League. There is a way to go, but the fact that one of their clubs made it to the final of the tournament will bring some much needed legitimacy and attention to it. And it is pretty much ditto for the Montreal Impact. The attention brought on to them from the soccer world due to the accomplishment of reaching the finals might mean that bigger name players would consider coming to the squad.
The first of the two game finals was played in Mexico at the immense and intimidating Azteca Stadium. Despite the fact that they were overwhelming underdogs (10-to-1), the Impact was able to escape the crazy crowd and the fact that they played the game at 6,000 foot elevation with an impressive tie. A tie in which the home side scored the tying goal in the last couple of minutes of regulation. Club America is part of the top professional league in Mexico and since its inception in 1916 it has become one of the most successful clubs in this part of the globe. They have won 12 league titles and (now) 6 CONCACAF Champions League titles. They have more money to spend on players and have from back to front higher quality players than the Impact. But fans of the home side held out hope that their David could defeat the Mexican Goliath as it was improbable that they even made it this far.
Around 40,000 were at the game one hour before kick off in order to greet the Impact as they entered the field for warm up. It was wonderful. The players must have had goosebumps. How could they not have been buoyed by such a reception? The reception they got from the over 60,000 as they walked onto the field at 8 p.m. for the start of the game was even better. Great to be a part of. Really reminded me that the Olympic Stadium, when there are fans in the seats, is not a bad place to have a sports game/event. More goosebumps. The place was rocking. The singing of “Allez Montreal” started early.
The energy they got from the crowd seemed to push the Impact on and they had a good first half of play. Midfielder Ignacio Piatti really showed his class over the first 45 minutes. He really controlled the game from the midfield position and created a lot. In the 8th minute of play his dribbling skills and vision resulted in the game’s first goal. After dribbling past a couple of Club America defenders he laid the ball off to winger, Andres Romero, inside the box. Romero continued on a little to his left and then put a low shot across his body that found the back of the net beating Club America keeper Moises Munoz. The place exploded as Romero and his teammates celebrated in the corner of the field. Could the impossible be occurring? 1-0 Montreal.
The 1st half ended with Montreal still clinging to its 1-0 lead. You could see that Club America were beginning to up the tempo and causing some problems for Montreal. In the 12th minute they came as close as you could without actually scoring to tie the game as a free kick deep in Impact territory ended up with the ball hitting the underside of the crossbar, apparently not crossing the line and being cleared out of danger. Piatti also had an excellent chance in the 24th minute to put the Impact up 2-0, but was stopped from close range.
The 2nd half was a complete crushing of the spirits of the Montreal team and their fans. Starting 5 minutes into the 2nd half and continuing on Club America netted 4 goals. It was decisive and brutal. Montreal could barely get a hold of the ball for any time during the 2nd half and Club America, once they had opened the ledger, smelt blood and went in for the kill. They showed their superior skill. This was especially true of their 24-year-old striker, Dario Benedetto. He scored 3 of his team’s 4 goals and was basically unstoppable. Oribe Peralta scored the other goal for Club America. For the Impact, 2nd half substitute, Jack McInerney, scored in the
The party atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium was ruined. To the fans credit, though, they did not head for the exits in significant numbers until the 3rd Club America goal and tens of thousands stuck it out to the end. The last minute of the game they even began applauding for the home side in recognition of their accomplishment in making it this far.
Club America celebrated on the Impact home pitch after their two game 5-3 aggregate victory. This was their first CONCACAF Champions League victory since 2009. The win will bring them on to the Club World Cup in Japan taking place in December. The better team won. There is no debating that. A consolation for the Impact is that they made Club America work for it and that keeper Evan Bush won the goaltender of the tournament trophy.
Despite the fact that they loss it was a totally positive experience for the club. It might hurt now for players, coaches and management, but once they have some distance from the loss they will all realize what they accomplished. On the field after the game last minute fill-in as Montreal’s keeper, Kristian Nichte on transfer from the Indy Eleven of the NASL, was visibly upset. It was hard to see the giant of a man break down with emotion. I know as the goalie you always feel responsible, but none of the goals were his fault. Yes, he got his hands on the first shot and maybe should have shown stronger hands to parry it away, but that would be nitpicking. Even if regular keeper Bush was in the net the Impact would have lost as they were completely outclassed in the 2nd half.
The only disturbing part of the evening was that once again the Impact seemed to fall apart in the 2nd half. This seems to be a reoccurring thing no matter what type of game they are playing – Champions League or MLS regular season game. There is a definite decline in their play over the last 45 minutes of games. Their play gets sloppy and their defensive marking is lax. Several times they have been made to pay for this lower level of play. I don’t know if it is the coach not substituting properly, playing the wrong system, new players getting used to one another, or a lack of fitness. It is something they have to work on as they continue on in the MLS and begin once again the qualification procedure for this year’s COMCACAF Champions League tournament.
Next up for the Impact is the first game of that qualification. They are competing against Toronto and Vancouver to become the Canadian representative. It will be Toronto FC that is first up with a game on May 6th at Saputo Stadium. It all starts again.
-Goals: 1st Half:
8th minute: Montreal – Andres Romero
50th minute: Club America – Dario Benedetto
64th minute: Club America – Oribe Peralta
66th minute: Club America – Dario Benedetto
81st minute: Club America – Dario Benedetto
89th minute: Montreal – Jack McInerney
-Man of the Match: Dario Benedetto
-Finals Score: Montreal – 2
Club America – 4