MONTREAL – The clock reads 94:45 and, for a second, 58,912 people hold their breath collectively.
Impact left back Josh Gardner, from what appears to be nearly midfield, runs full speed toward a loose ball. He cocks his left foot and leather connects with leather. As if in slow motion, the ball leaves Gardner’s boot, flies over Lamar Neagle, who is pulling himself up following an epic whiff, and makes a beeline for the upper corner.
WATCH: Gardner's blast strikes the post
Those same 58,912 people – a record crowd for professional soccer in Montreal who packed Olympic Stadium for the Impact’s first-ever game in MLS – are all thinking the same thing: This has to be going in, right?
And then the post intervenes, leaving those in attendance to throw up their hands and let out a moan that echoes off the stadium’s concrete walls. Montreal must make do with a 1-1 draw filled with excitement but without an all-important victory and the franchise’s first three points in MLS.
“The post is not always your best friend,” Gardner told reporters after the game. “I just tried to hit it well, and I thought there was a foul on Lamar before. It could have gone to the first row of the stadium, or it could have hit the post and then gone in.”
Of course, it didn’t land in the first row, though.
Mere inches separated Gardner from what would have been a historic goal and a moment that would have lived in Impact lore, a game-winner of epic proportions and a memory that would have stuck with nearly 60,000 Montrealers forever.
Captain Davy Arnaud had given Montreal the lead 40 minutes before, nodding home a Sanna Nyassi cross that sent the crowd into convulsions.
And despite conceding an equalizer to Dominic Oduro in the 71st minute, Impact head coach Jesse Marsch appraised the game as a “fairly good night for us.” Off the field, that was a huge understatement.
On the field, the Impact boss insisted there had been plenty of good individual performances – foremost among them Felipe Martins and Arnaud in the midfield as well as some good moments from Nyassi and Justin Braun. Even more encouraging was the fact that his team had not given much to a Fire side playing their first match of the young season.
Still, from where he sat, Marsch was thinking Goal of the Year and picture-perfect ending before Gardner’s strike even approached that fateful post.
“I thought it was going to go in," Montreal's head coach told reporters. "From our angle, it was tough to tell how close it was going to be. It looked, when it left his foot, that it was going to have a chance. Then obviously, when it hit the post, from my angle I was still thinking, 'Does it go in?' So yeah, a little unlucky.”
The Chicago Fire, for their part, gave credit to their goalkeeper Paulo Tornaghi, as they felt he’d gotten a hand to what was an almost unstoppable strike. Tornaghi said as much himself, although the crowd surely would have disagreed.
And no matter how rational Gardner might have been about the goal that was simply not to be, he didn’t bite when asked if he wanted another crack at it.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think I would have liked it a little more inside.”
As it turned out, 58,912 other people dressed in blue would have liked the same thing.