Impact head coach Jesse Marsch
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ACC: Champions League place the end goal for Montreal

MONTREAL – To this day, there is still a special spot in the hearts of many Montreal Impact supporters for July 22, 2008: the date of a Canadian Championship game at Toronto’s BMO Field.

The Impact, then a USL club, managed a 1-1 draw against MLS’ Toronto FC, thus clinching a seventh straight Voyageurs Cup and paving the way for an unforgettable run to a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Mexico’s Santos Laguna seven months later.

The 2012 Impact are a different team and organization – having joined Toronto in the MLS ranks this season – but as long-time staff member and current sporting director Nick De Santis privately told the players before practice on Monday, the mission remains the same: Qualifying for the Champions League is the minimum target.

The easiest way to do that, north of the border at least, is to win the Amway Canadian Championship, which kicks off on Wednesday when Montreal host Toronto FC (8 pm ET, Sportsnet) and FC Edmonton welcome the Vancouver Whitecaps to Alberta (10 pm ET, Sportsnet).

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“We’re definitely putting a heavy emphasis on the Canadian Championship,” head coach Jesse Marsch told reporters. “As an organization, it’s been something that has brought them a lot of success and a lot of notoriety in the city. … We’re going to make sure that, from top to bottom, we address this competition in a real way.”

Like Marsch, most Impact players have only been at the club for a short period of time and therefore know the club’s history a bit less, hence De Santis’ intervention before training.

Midfielder Collen Warner acknowledged that he falls into that category. Warner is nevertheless very much aware of the joys cup competitions can bring, having been part of Real Salt Lake’s remarkable run to the CCL finals in 2010-11.

But sporting glories, Warner says, are not the only upside to this tournament; it is also a human experience.

“You get to play those Central American teams, and it’s a different style, a different atmosphere, especially when you go away,” Warner told “You end up traveling a lot more, but when you’re down there, you bond more with your teammates.”

Marsch, a veteran of knockout competitions as a player himself, is no stranger to the pressure related to those matches. The Montreal boss will undoubtedly urge his players to fully enjoy moments like Wednesday’s game, moments which can define a career.

“Any player, when he looks back on his career, these are the kind of games that you remember: the ones that are derbies or knockouts, there’s more on the line,” Marsch said. “The best players play the best in those moments. I think we have a number of quality players and quality men who are ready for this kind of challenge. … We’ve got to continue to put the foot on the pedal all the way.”

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